Happiness Runs (2008)  Reviews



An A-Film release of an IDTV Film production, in association with Samsa Film, NCRV. (International sales: IDTV Film, Amsterdam.) Produced by Anton Smit, Hanneke Niens. Co-producers, Jani Thiltges, Gemma Derksen. Directed by Ben Sombogaart. Screenplay, Marieke van der Pol.

With: Karina Smulders, Elise Schaap, Anna Drijver, Waldemar Torenstra, Rutger Hauer, Pleuni Touw, Petra Laseur, Willeke van Ammelrooy, Micha Hulshof, Marc Klein Essink.
(Dutch, English dialogue)

A devil-may-care adventurer and three vastly different gals emigrate from the Low Countries to New Zealand in the romantic epic “Bride Flight,” a glossy European meller that switches between the ’50s, the ’60s and the present. One of the most expensive Dutch-language productions ever, and made by the same team behind Oscar-nommed “Twin Sisters” (another time-and-country-hopping tale about rocky female bonding), “Flight” also features a strong male protag in beefcake du jour Waldemar Torenstra. Local B.O. should be more than decent for this mid-October release, with limited arthouse play possible abroad and Euro tube sales a given.

Rather than grafting perfunctory love stories onto male-oriented actioners, helmer Ben Sombogaart and scripter Marieke van der Pol make crowdpleasing, vaguely post-feminist women’s pictures with background material that could lure male viewers as well (the war in “Twin Sisters,” planes in “Flight”). The starting point for van der Pol’s original screenplay is a 1953 air race that was won by a Dutch plane.

On the so-called “Bride Flight” — because it carried women joining their fiances in New Zealand — are outgoing fashion designer Esther (Anna Drijver), shy yet sensual farm girl Ada (Karina Smulders) and staid, family-minded Marjorie (Elise Schaap). They immediately bond, mainly because all three are being ogled by cowboy Frank (Torenstra).

After their arrival, the narrative is held together by two strong story arcs. Ada and Frank fall in love, despite the fact she’s pregnant by her strictly religious better half (Micha Hulshof), with whom she lives in a transformed WWII-era bunker. And Marjorie and Esther solve two problems at once, as one of them can’t have children and the other has an unplanned pregnancy by a mystery man.

Screenplay’s only awkward elements are Marjorie’s underdeveloped character and the way in which Esther’s Jewish heritage is handled.

Action is framed by a few scenes set in the present. Now in their 70s, the women meet again at the funeral of Frank (Rutger Hauer). Tension rises when Esther (Willeke van Ammelrooy, the matriarch in “Antonia’s Line”) sees Marjorie (Petra Laseur) with her son Bob (Marc Klein Essink), nicely encapsulating pic’s central idea that past and present are inextricably linked.

As in “Twin Sisters,” a veneer of nostalgia, plus excellent lensing and acting, make the soap-opera plot play on the bigscreen. Smulders (”Wolfsbergen”), especially, gives a moving, multilayered performance as the most complex of the three gals, and she has palpable chemistry with Torenstra, whose matinee-idol looks are perfect for Frank. Hauer’s almost wordless cameo adds some much-needed gravitas.

Editing, again by Herman P. Koerts, and clever casting keeps the plot easily readable throughout. Period production and costume design are unusually strong for a Dutch pic, with locations in New Zealand blending seamlessly with work done in Luxembourg. Jeannot Sanavia’s score is serviceable but bland.

Camera (color, widescreen), Piotr Kukla; editor, Herman P. Koerts; music, Jeannot Sanavia; production designer, Michel de Graaf; costume designer, Linda Bogers; sound (Dolby Digital), Erik Langhout; special effects, Filmmore; associate producer, Olga Madsen; assistant director, Anielle Webster; casting, Marina Wijn. Reviewed at Pand Noord, Amsterdam, June 24, 2008. Running time: 130 MIN.