The romantic saga Bride Flight is a flawed but absorbing romantic saga from Dutch director Ben Sombogaart spanning five decades that offers a contrast to the teenage summer monotony. In postwar Holland, a planeload of strangers sign up for an actual 1953 KLM flight that entered an air race from London to New Zealand, shown in newsreel footage of the day. It was called the “Bride Flight” because so many women passengers were joining their fiancés who traveled ahead to pave the way, fleeing job and housing problems in the aftermath of a flood. On the 13,000-mile voyage across Persia and over Baghdad and Pakistan, three girls and one man bond, forming friendships that will last until the end of their lives.
Shy, beautiful Ada (Karina Smulders), vivacious free spirited fashion designer Esther (Anna Drijver) and pragmatic, earthy Marjorie (Elise Schaap), who wants only to have a family and lots of babies, all become infatuated with a warm, friendly and dashing hunk named Frank (played by Holland’s new matinee idol, Waldemar Torenstra). Frank falls for Ada, but she is already pregnant by her betrothed, a strict, humorless Mennonite who is destined to make her life miserable. Esther is also engaged, to a religious Jew who labels her a “daughter of Israel” and demands that she prepare kosher meals, teach their future children traditional values, celebrate Sabbath, Purim and Sukkot, and dedicate her life to a higher cause. You can see the mounting terror in the eyes of the dynamic Ms. Drijver as she contemplates the thought of becoming cozy and Yiddish. Outraged, she dumps her intended immediately, sleeps with Frank and opens a clothes shop that eventually makes her famous. Instantly disillusioned, Ada is forced to ride in the rear of a truck for six hours to the pastor, then moved by her cold, passionless new husband into a dark room with a bargain mattress that used to be a bunker at the time when New Zealanders feared an invasion by the Japanese. Marjorie, whose only desire was to have a family, loses a baby in childbirth and becomes despondent. Nothing turns out to be quite what the three girls hoped.
Marjorie’s inability to have children leaves her sad and bitter. Esther is fertile but dreads the idea of motherhood. When she finds out she’s pregnant by Frank, who is long gone, she gives her baby to Marjorie, who makes a pact to raise Frank’s child with one condition—nobody will ever find out the truth, including the baby. During the trajectory of this fascinating, beautifully acted and magnificently photographed film (one of the most expensive in Dutch cinema), Ada leaves her drab life and finds Frank, who has become a cherished uncle to Marjorie’s son. Ada and Frank fall in love while Esther watches idly. Happiness is brief and friends are separated for years, reuniting only to attend Frank’s present-day funeral, where Esther, now 70, at last runs into the child she sacrificed to Marjorie. (Old Frank is played by Rutger Hauer, who more than recovers from the trashy exploitation flick Hobo With a Shotgun, regaining some of his self-respect and seriousness of purpose as Holland’s most famous export.) It’s an elaborate soap opera, but only a cad would reveal how the three stories resolve.
My one caveat is the truncated screenplay by Marieke van der Pol. True, it’s a challenge to keep the stories straight and the characters individual but separate. Still, the film bounces around in time, introducing so many people in each scene that it’s hard to tell what’s going on. The actors are all double cast, so as the film cuts abruptly back and forth, linking 50’s and 60’s flashbacks to modern times, you have to pay close attention to keep everyone defined. But the Dutch really know how to make films that engage the senses and hold attention. Bride Flight is the most lavishly entertaining Dutch film since Paul Verhoeven’s fabulous The Black Book. You will not walk away bored.
Running time 130 minutes
Written by Marieke van der Pol
Directed by Ben Sombogaart
Starring Karina Smulders, Waldemar Torenstra, Anna Drijver