Rutger Hauer in Bride Flight

Inspired by actual events, Bride Flight is a beautifully photographed, decades-spanning romance following the lives of three Dutch women and a male friend who all meet on an airplane trip from Holland to New Zealand in 1953. The women are off to join their respective husbands who have gone ahead to forge new lives for their families.

Ada is a shy, naive farm girl locked into a marriage with a strict and cold churchgoer. Marjorie dreams of escaping war-torn Holland to have a successful life with many children in her new home. Esther is a Holocaust survivor more interested in starting her own fashion business than in settling down with a man. Their new companion, Frank, is an adventurous college grad off to make a go of it as a vintner. The four bond on their long and rocky trip and, though they go their separate ways when they reach their new homes, their lives continue to intersect over the next 50 years in sometimes surprising and dramatic ways.

The story begins in the present with a now elderly Frank (the great Rutger Hauer) collapsing and dying at his vineyard. As the three old friends gather for his funeral, the story flashes back and forth from present to past where secrets are revealed, drama unfolds and the unexpected paths their lives took are revealed. It takes awhile for the story to really start clicking and it seems like it’s never really going to get off the ground in the early going. The girls each have their own set of ups and downs and the story flits around a lot as it lays out each of their situations while struggling to find a consistent tone. The dialogue too jumps around from Dutch to English and back again depending on who is talking to who. This makes sense, but it adds to the disjointed feeling of the first half of the film.

Slowly however, things start to come together and the story picks up momentum. When the drama reaches a peak with Ada, the narrative finally engages. Its course is not entirely unpredictable, but it in the end it feels wholly satisfying. The 5-decade span it covers gives the story the real weight of history – the sense of how the little choices we make along the way have big, unexpectedly dramatic consequences later on – and the whole thing builds to a surprisingly moving conclusion.

Though the entire cast is solid and appealing (the actors are probably more familiar to Dutch audiences), it’s a little disappointing that Rutger Hauer isn’t given more to do as old Frank. He is a terrific and recently underused actor who deserves better. Pretty much anyone could’ve played the part he’s given.

Another small issue is the sometimes overbearing score which is a bit of a liability especially in the slow early going. With its swelling crescendos, the music is too eager to underline the drama when restraint would’ve been more powerful. The story itself contains all of the emotion it needs and it builds as it goes. The music just gets in the way and feels forced.

Small flaws aside, Bride Flight is a winner. It feels choppy and uneven at first as though it’s trying to cover too much ground too soon, but eventually the narrative through line becomes clear and it reaches a bittersweet and emotionally satisfying finale.

Bride Flight. Netherlands 2008 (US release 2011). Directed by Ben Sombogaart. Screenplay by Marieke van der Pol. Cinematography by Piotr Kukla. Original music by Jeannot Sanavia. Edited by Herman P. Koerts. Starring Karina Smulders, Waldemar Torenstra, Anna Drijver, Pleuni Touw, Petra Laseur, Elise Schaap, Willeke van Ammelrooy and Rutger Hauer. 2 hours 10 minutes. MPAA rated R. 3.5 stars (out of 5)

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