Most of the time, fellow air travelers never talk to one another in flight. Sometimes an inexperienced traveler will insist on intrusively bending the ear of an unwilling seatmate. On rare occasions, strangers will meet and a friendship is forged, usually fleeting, sometimes long-lasting.
The premise of Bride Flight rests on that unlikely latter scenario. But the flight in question is no ordinary trip, no mundane juxtaposition of airline seat assignments. It’s a springboard to its passengers’ destiny.
Bride Flight, directed by Ben Sombogaart and written by Marieke van der Pol, was released in its native Holland in 2008. Chicago’s Music Box Films distributed Bride Flight theatrically in the United States in early 2011 and is now overseeing its US DVD release.
The story begins in October 1953 as four young people — Ada, Marjorie, Esther and Frank — leave the Netherlands (which at the time was damaged by World War II and by the February 1953 North Sea flood disaster) in search of new lives in New Zealand. Marjorie (Elise Schaap), who dreams of a large family and a prosperous life, has a fiancé who awaits her in Christchurch. Esther (Anna Drijver) is a Holocaust survivor with hopes of becoming a fashion designer. Karina Smulders plays Ada van Holland — her name literally means, “Ada from Holland,” something that the others find amusing — a shy farm girl who is off to marry a man out of a sense of personal and religious duty. And Frank (Waldemar Torenstra) is a confident young man who dreams of becoming a vintner.
The four become friends in the course of the flight, bonding over their shared history, loss, and fear mingled with hope. After their arrival in New Zealand, the story continues to follow the four friends’ lives as their paths intersect during subsequent years.
The lush New Zealand landscape could be counted a supporting character, so stunning is the cinematography of Bride Flight. According to the press materials, Bride Flight is the most expensive production in the history of Dutch cinema, and that’s palpable in the sweeping panoramas of Antipodean vineyards, mountains, coasts and pastures.
But the scenery is much more than eye candy; strong visual symbols reign throughout. For example, a heartbreaking moment when Ada’s life takes an oppressive turn is rendered in a beautifully composed shot of a diverging rural road. Her consequent marital home — a repurposed World War II anti-aircraft bunker with concrete walls and a dearth of windows — is clearly a prison. When the four characters visit a geologic park called Inferno Crater, a steamy miasma is a metaphor for physical disorientation and moral ambiguity. And Frank’s vineyard is symbolic of vitality and of life itself.
As an epic spanning several decades, the film’s themes are appropriately weighty: love, friendship, faith, fidelity, life and death are all thoughtfully considered. Given these themes and its strong female characters, Bride Flight draws unmistakable parallels with another Dutch film, Marleen Gorris’ 1995 epic Antonia’s Line, which follows the life of its eponymous matriarch and her social circle over the course of 50 years. (Coincidentally, Willeke van Ammelrooy, who played Antonia, appears in Bride Flight as the older Esther.)
Both films are compelling tales, but Antonia’s Line asks many questions and leaves much to the discernment of the audience. Its plot contains surprises. Bride Flight, by contrast, doesn’t really surprise. Its storyline, while certainly interesting, is rather formulaic. It is the actors’ praiseworthy performances that make the viewer care deeply about the characters and their lives. Otherwise, Bride Flight’s key plot points, conflicts and resolutions come to resemble the Dutch railway system: reliable, predictable and arriving on time.
Bride Flight is primarily in Dutch with English subtitles; with the majority of the action taking place in New Zealand, there are substantial portions in English, and the actors seamlessly shift from one language to the other. Due to its mature content, Bride Flight is rated R.
DVD extras include: a “making of” featurette; an interview with Rutger Hauer (Blade Runner), who plays the older Frank, and an interview with Bride Flight screenwriter Marieke van der Pol.
Despite the serviceable storyline, the film is visually sumptuous and the characters are truly endearing. The emotion and nuance of the dialogue spotlight the unsung beauty of the Dutch language. For Music Box Films — whose titles include Marco Amenta’s The Sicilian Girl, Guillaume Canet’s Tell No One and the entire Stieg Larsson trilogy — Bride Flight is another jewel in an already encrusted crown.