|A scene from “Bride Flight.”|
For the last few decades, filmmakers have been dramatizing aspects of the Holocaust. Initially, there was strong reaction by some survivors and Holocaust historians, most notably Elie Wiesel, who claimed that these dramas were “trivializations” and that no narrative film could capture the horrors that were endured. The debate has softened these past years as there is realization and growing evidence across the globe that these television and film dramas have provided an incredible teaching tool and have effected a better understanding of the Shoah. In the Netherlands, filmmaker Paul Verhoeven rewrote his own film history when he made his 2006 film “Black Book.” It detailed Dutch collaboration with the Nazis three decades after his “Soldiers of Orange” glorified the work of the Dutch underground. Now, Dutch director Ben Sombogaart takes a look at how the war changed people’s lives and how they moved beyond it to reconstruct new lives, sometimes in a far and distant place. Sombogaart focused on how the war, coupled with widespread flooding in Holland, affected a generation, some of whom fled Europe to seek out a new life. This is the story of four such people.
The film,”Bride Flight,” opens with actual newsreel footage of one of the post-war “bride flights” that brought young women from the continent to New Zealand, where they were to join their “intended,” marry, and establish a new life. We meet Ada (Karina Smulders), Esther (Anna Drijver), and Marjorie (Elise Schaap), three women from totally different backgrounds, whose fiancÃ©s are to meet them when the plane lands in Auckland. Also on the flight is Frank (Waldemar Torenstra), a handsome adventurer whose friendship with the three women, which evolves during the flight, is interwoven throughout the film. Ada grew up on a farm and, in the course of consoling a young man who has lost his entire family to the floods, becomes pregnant; the priest will be waiting with her “proxy” husband upon her arrival to finalize their marriage. Marjorie’s dreams for money, a handsome husband, beautiful children, and a home by the ocean are dampened by homesickness, as she deeply misses family left behind. Esther is the Jewish character who has lost her entire family in the Holocaust. She seems proud of her Jewishness, yet as lone survivor of her family, she carries incredible guilt and is unsure that she can sustain a marriage, bring a child into the world, and nurture a family. Her story, set alongside that of the other women and Frank, is a memorable study of the complexity of survival and how people chose to carry on in the aftermath of the war. Esther’s photograph of lost parents and siblings sits on the night table next to Marjorie’s family photo of distant family. Each is trying to make do with loss and separation, but the back-and-forth letters between Marjorie and family in Holland are not replicable by Esther.
Sombogaart’s Esther is a fascinating study of a lone survivor of the Shoah – smart, beautiful, and talented, who, because of her experiences seeks love yet is seemingly incapable of committing to a relationship. She leaves war-torn Europe to join her fiancÃ© and create a Jewish and kosher home in a new world. He is waiting for her as they land, but she is unable or simply not ready to re-establish family. Whether it is because of her commitment to her work as a designer, the psychological baggage she carries, or a simple lack of attraction, she rebuffs him – and with him, Jewish community. Although she is savvy and able to establish a successful fashion business, her personal life seems wanting. She wants to love but does not know how. She seeks continuation of the Jewish people (she always seems to be carrying around an enormous menorah), yet is unprepared to make this happen in her own life. Where Ada seems wanting of love, Marjorie needy for family, Esther’s very essence seems toward perpetuating Jewish continuity, yet she is unable or unwilling to act. The psychological damage is too great.
“Bride Flight” is a lavish romantic drama about four individuals who escaped the gloom of post-World War II Holland for a better life in New Zealand. The landscapes are incredibly pretty, and it is easy to understand what drew the four to this new country. Each had been affected by the times and seeks renewal in a new land. The relationships between each intersect and collide in odd and unique ways, with Frank (the older Frank played by Rutger Hauer) being a pivotal force as friend, lover, father, and counselor. It is his funeral that brings the three women together at his New Zealand vineyard after a half-century of separation.
While at times “soppy,” the film is compelling with a powerful story about friendship and history.