.Kiwi Couples

New Zealand's odd ways and beautiful scenery justify an old-fashioned women's plot in Bride Flight

TARMAC HOPEFULS: Marriage-bound women wing their way to New Zealand in the 1940s in ‘Bride Flight.’

DIRECTOR Ben Sombogaart’s Bride Flight is a parakeet-sized version of The Thorn Birds. To be fair, the film’s mild but essential lameness is sometimes stimulating. Movies modeled on the old-style women’s pictures of the Hollywood studio era are always in short supply.

Bride Flight is pictorially pretty and forgivably bad in a 1940s way of badness, where you’re a few steps ahead of the plot and the blatantness gets amusing. Surely, Sombogaart isn’t going to … and then of course he does.

Part of the film’s function is to show off the wonders of New Zealand as relentlessly as a tourist bureau ad. The first 10 minutes may convince you that you’re watching a wine commercial.

Craggy and leathery Frank (Rutger Hauer) takes a ride through his solar-powered vineyard in a Jeep. As he’s driving across this settled country on a settled island, you might inquire what his shotgun is for: rabid ewes? After broaching a barrel and savoring a wine-thief taste, Frank has a fatal conniption fit. Word of his demise gets out to the women he once loved, who are now grannies. Three of them decide go to his funeral and the flashbacks commence. Right after World War II, Frank (now played by Waldemar Torenstra) is a passenger on a celebrated KLM flight racing another plane to the end of the earth. The “Flying Dutchman” follows the 20,000 kilometer, turbulence-wracked route to the very islands named by Holland’s own Abel Tasman.

Three women aboard are going to join their husbands overseas. On the way, Frank almost inducts young, blonde Ada (Karina Smulders) into the mile-high club. But he can’t save her from marrying into a church of goat-bearded fanatics who read from a book labeled “Bijbel.” (It sounds even worse in Dutch.)

A similarly conservative fate lies in store for the chic Jewish Esther (Anna Drijve), who doesn’t talk much about the Holocaust. She’s fancy; wielding a cigarette holder, she conducts herself like a movie star. God knows Bride Flight could use one. Lastly, there’s Marjorie (Elise Schaap), who wants to be a mom in the worst way.

Of the three women, the most heart-wringing fate is in store for Ada. Due to the old New Zealand custom of converting sedans into demi-pickup trucks, the poor bride has to be hauled to her new home in the back of the flatbed, like a hippie’s dog. Frank watches tearfully from a nearby bus passing her by.

These immigrants have some trouble getting used to the cloudiness and the stillness of New Zealand Sundays, which make the town resemble an open-air mortuary. (The store windows are curtained, perhaps to discourage window-shopping on the Sabbath.)

Plot by the pound runs throughout, with pregnancies and the lack thereof, and maternal duty vs. romantic love. The freedom of the new land contrasts with the enduring appeal of the old ways. One rests assured—for Bride Flight is nothing if not restful—that all will be resolved.

Amid the drama of the mamas, the flash of adult content is a little dismaying. A sensual awakening leads to a too-much-information love scene. Laid out full length in candlelight, the lovers look like a pair of grasshoppers, all elbows and legs.

The film wanders through history, marking its path with changing fashions. Since Esther becomes a dress salon operator, there’s even (as in The Women) a strange fashion show in the antipodes.

Hauer may not be a great actor, but he’s done the job long enough to have a tonic presence. Like a talented pitcher, he has a number of career saves. Even if it’s an old-style woman’s picture, Bride Flight needs a man big enough to anchor the film. While the women undergo changes, as the days of liberation arrive, it’s impossible to imagine the kind of evolution that would turn Waldemar Torenstra into Hauer. This may be the source of Bride Flight’s engine trouble.

Bride Flight

R; 130 min.

Opens June 24


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