Ben Sombogaart’s Dutch melodrama Bride Flight is flooded with nostalgia, but not for the era (the 1950s and ’60s) or place (mostly New Zealand) where it’s set. It’s informed by a longing for tone, not time, resulting in a vague, hazy aesthetic that floods every available space with as much light as it can hold. The story centers around three women—mousy farm girl Karina Smulders, fashion designer Anna Drijver, and aspirant housewife Elise Schaap—who hop aboard a plane bound for the antipodes, part of an attempt to break air-travel records; for unspecified reasons, the plane is loaded with women waiting to join their fiancés Down Under. (Presumably a crafty PR agent was involved.) Aboard, they meet putty-faced hunk Waldemar Torenstra, who commences flirting with all three and is soon planting covert smooches on the smitten Smulders.
Framed by the funeral of Torenstra’s present-day self, played with offhand charm by Rutger Hauer, Bride Flight hopscotches through time. No sooner has Smulders landed and met her husband-to be, a joyless, devout man who’s thoughtfully installed them in a half-built fallout shelter, then she’s trundling along with several kids in tow, her relationship with Torenstra a distant but potent memory. (Don’t worry, there’s softcore sex to come.) Torenstra settles down as a winegrower, a committed and active bachelor, still carrying a torch for Smulders, but not letting that get in the way of dipping his wick. After Drijver covertly gives her illegitimate child to the infertile Schaap, tensions simmer for decades, making their way into the present-day sections as well.
Sombogaart and writer Marieke van der Pol touch flittingly on a smattering of issues, including Drijver’s Jewishness and the unstable relationship between New Zealand’s Maori population and recent immigrants, but it’s just enough to give the film a veneer of being interested in something other than whom its characters are sleeping with at any given moment. The whole thing, from its mushy look to its scattershot performances, feels like a lump of clay incompletely molded. The subtitles and period setting conjure a smattering of respectability, but in essence, this is arthouse pap, particularly for older audiences, turning the past into a concatenation of worn-out tropes that comforts as it distorts. Think of it as instant mashed potatoes for the soul.