Monday, June 06, 2011

Dutch Soap: Bride Flight

It was a flight that came with a lot of baggage. Scarred by World War II, demoralized by economic recession, and wiped out by floods, many Dutch citizens chose to immigrate to New Zealand in 1953. A number of them were brides-to-be, hitching a ride on the Flying Dutchman, Holland’s entry in an air race from London to Christ Church. Four such Dutch settlers start new lives as New Zealanders despite the lingering shadows of their past in Ben Sombogaart’s Bride Flight (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Esther’s entire family was killed by the Germans. Understandably, she will struggle with her Jewish faith during her years in New Zealand. Marjorie is a born homemaker, whereas poor Ada had little choice in the matter, deferring to her family’s strict Puritanism. Frank also experienced tragedy, losing his family in a Japanese POW camp, but his adventurous spirit remains indomitable. All four become fast friends on the fateful 1953 flight. Though the various trials of life will pull them apart, the three women will eventually reunite for Frank’s funeral, which serves as the film’s framing device.

Only Marjorie will find happiness in marriage to the faithful Dirk. However, when they secretly adopt Esther’s out-of-wedlock baby, it sets up the first of Bride’s primary plot lines: will the increasingly remorseful Esther try to have a Darth Vader “I am your mother” confrontation with the son she and Dirk love as their own? Meanwhile, Frank tries to convince Ada they were meant to be together, regardless of minor details like her marriage and religion.

Unapologetically melodramatic, Bride is at its best recreating the hip Mad Men-esque vibe of late 1950’s-early 1960’s New Zealand. To really stoke nostalgia, it even features people smoking during a transcontinental flight. However, it is a surprisingly judgmental film, scathing in its depiction of Calvinist Christianity and openly contemptuous of Marjorie’s bourgeoisie values.

Rutger Hauer and Waldemar Torenstra do not even look distantly related, but they both project the appropriate devilish charm as old and young Frank, respectively. Unfortunately, Elise Schaap seemed to be under strict instructions to make Marjorie as uptight and shrewish as possible. Likewise, Anna Drijver’s brittle and neurotic Esther also taxes viewer patience to the point that it affects dramatic credibility. Arguably, Karina Smulders takes the honors as Ada, creating a sensitively nuanced character, despite the rather harsh representation of her brand of Christian faith.

To its credit, Bride refrains from overplaying the irony of its conclusion, instead ending on a deftly understated note. Yet, its tendency to play favorites is a consistent drawback. An appealing period production, but an only just okay soap opera, Bride opens this Friday (6/10) in New York at the classy uptown single-screen Paris Theatre.