“Bride Flight” is an engrossing, dramatic romance from the Netherlands, and director Ben Sombogaart. According to the film’s website, the story was inspired by 1953′s Last Great Air Race, from London to New Zealand. Three eligible & engaged women meet on the bride flight, and in the process are touched and beguiled by a magnetic outdoorsman, Frank de Booy (Waldemar Torenstra when young, Rutger Hauer when old).
Marjorie (Elise Schapp) is photographed for record-breaking posterity (courtesy Music Box Films)
Each is bound to meet a man, other than him, who is all but a stranger to her, and choose between doors one and two à la “Let’s Make A Deal.”
This plays at the Edina Theater for a week starting on June 17th.
The flight’s turbulence ensures moments that attach each of them to the other for a generation to come, and more, whether they think they want to or not. That’s where they click with one another; the flight leaves them shaken and stirred! It sparks fears of flight, mortality and other equally profound personal qualms and questions. Each of these beauties and their stories is drawn and portrayed fully, beyond being simply one-offs of archetypes or stereotypes.
Frank de Booy (Rutger Hauer) beguiles each woman while marrying neither of them (courtesy Music Box Films)
We find a sheltered, pregnant and buxom blonde beauty Ada van Holland (Karina Smulders when young, and Pleuni Touw when old). who’s also sweet and provincial. And she’ll find a polite, self-righteously religious man who’s morality is rigid.
Another bride is a pretty, flamboyant fashion designer, Esther (Anna Drijver, when young, and Willeke van Ammelrooy when old), She’s an independent-minded Jew who lost all biological ties in WWII; her persona and sensibility are out–of–time and –place for mid-20th-Century New Zealand – or anywhere. She finds an affable, but conservative conformist. Quickly she knows that, as he chafes her, she will him – much more so. She ditches him and gets into “trouble” as pregnancy was called then.
This leads to a complex subplot with the final woman, Marjorie (Elise Schaap when young, and Petra Laseur when old), a beautiful, cheery brunette who hasn’t yet any backstory or baggage. It’s she who winds up with the most conventional path.
This is a story more about the detours that these women’s lives take incidentally, than whatever plan that any of them had laid out on a map. They get to know Frank better than they do either of their fiancés; Frank shuffles the playing cards in their minds. As John Lennon once said, “Life is what happens when you’re busy doing other things.”
This film makes images from 1994′s “Legends of the Fall” and 1995′s “The Bridges of Madison County” bubble up in our minds: Frank is both the disrupting and uniting force in these beauties’ lives, like Tristan Ludlow in “Legends of the Fall;” Ada is like Francesca Johnson in “The Bridges of Madison County,” which takes place around the same time. She’s cruelly torn between obliging love for her children, and erotic love for that flight connection. Like Ludlow, Frank is the rock that each of these women though broke themselves against.
Esther (Anna Drijver) and Frank (Waldemar Torenstra) remain connected despite life's storms (courtesy Music Box Films)
There’s a power in the details, the nuances, the moments, which tell what dialogue, no matter how precise or eloquent, can. It shares this with Robert Redford’s sensual and attentive visual style. For example: the glances and body language between Ada and Frank. In a scene where she tries on Esther’s wedding dress in the plane’s bathroom, and he walks in to check it out (airborne bathrooms must’ve been roomy then!). This’s a great, chuckle-worthy scene.
In another, later in the flight Frank dozes off seated beside Ada, with has hand resting in a lewd spot. When she wakes up, she blushes but doesn’t budge it. In addition upon landing there are moments between Esther and her betrothed, which show they are clearly mismatched! The mismatch is subtler between Ada and hers. When she meets he and his father, one of her blouse buttons is unfastened. The flight was rocky!
That rockiness leaves us wondering about and hoping for a continued spark between Frank and Ada beyond the airport.
After the pivotal flight, Esther and Marjorie make a poisonous pact, creating a dilemma. On one end, when Esther is pregnant and her daring goals preclude her from keeping it; and on the other, Marjorie yearns for a child, but finds troubling news, that it’ll nary happen. She and her husband take on Esther’s baby, but she holds chip on her shoulder because of how they got it. That grabs us and creates a key subplot. But when Ada’s story comes back in to play, after having begun with plum gusto before our characters land, it feel like when need to ask why this cherry star-crossed romance was put off.
The climax comes up as an afterthought – flacid – against these women’s great dramas. But that criticism is petty against a strong drama with the quality of characters and portrayals that we receive, and the glimpse that “Bride Flight” gives us into the bounds of women’s opportunities in the middle of the 20th-Century.