Like moths to a flame, I guess.
The name of director Bruce Beresford on a film used to be a pretty reliable indicator that the film would merit one’s attention. That was particularly the case in the 1980s with such titles as Breaker Morant, Tender Mercies, Crimes of the Heart, and Driving Miss Daisy. Beresford’s 1990s record, however, became more and more spotty, including such timewasters as A Good Man in Africa and Silent Fall. Even the popularity of 1999’s Double Jeopardy doesn’t alter the fact that it’s basically a pale rip-off of The Fugitive. Now we’re well launched into a new decade, but things aren’t exactly looking up. Beresford’s latest effort — Bride of the Wind — came and went theatrically very quickly earlier this year. The film has little to recommend it, but Paramount has seen fit to release it on DVD anyway.
A young woman named Alma, living with her mother and stepfather in Vienna at the beginning of the 1900s, defies her parents by attending parties and showings of the local artistic contingent. At a dinner party, she meets composer Gustaf Mahler and makes disparaging comments about his music. Mahler is attracted to Alma and the two soon marry and eventually have two children. When one of the children dies, Alma retreats to a sanatorium to deal with her sadness. There, she meets architect Walter Gropius and the two have a brief affair. Although Alma returns to Mahler, the pattern is set. When Mahler dies, she embarks on a series of dalliances and marriages with the likes of painter Oscar Kokoschka, Gropius (again), and novelist Franz Werfel.
This has to be one of the more boring period films made. Oh, Vienna looks very nice and the film’s set decoration and costume design is well done, but that’s not enough to compensate for script and cast deficiencies. One would have thought that a film telling the story of a woman who seemed to be an aphrodisiac to important artistic figures in Europe at the beginning of the twentieth century might have generated more life and energy than this plodding effort. What was there about Alma that made her so attractive to such men? Why did Alma herself seem unable to resist the continual pull of a new conquest? We never learn, and the film just moves inexorably from one episode to the next without developing a point of view or giving us any reason to care about any of the characters.
Given the obvious script deficiencies, why did any of the actors agree to participate? Certainly, few of their performances suggest any great interest in the material. Sara Wynter, an Australian-born actress active in films since 1995 with little of great significance on her resumé, plays Alma. She looks quite attractive in period clothes (and unclothed, as she is several times in Bride of the Wind), but she seems perpetually to have either such a mournful look or a pout on her face that one wonders why men would immediately flock to her. Of the four romantic attachments that she has in the film, only Vincent Perez as Oskar Kokoschka has any life whatsoever. Jonathan Pryce seems miscast as Gustaf Mahler (or maybe it’s just me since any time I see him in films now, I can’t get his role as the megalomaniac in the Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies out of my mind). As for Simon Verhoeven as Walter Gropius, all I can remember about him is his chin and Gregor Seberg as Franz Werfel has too little screen time to really register.
Paramount’s DVD presentation is nothing out of the ordinary. The image is presented in its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1, anamorphically enhanced. It appears to be another fine Paramount effort. Colour fidelity is good, blacks are deep and glossy and shadow detail is fairly good. There is some occasional softness to the image, but this probably reflects the director’s desire to invoke a deliberately period postcard look to the film, rather than any deficiency in the transfer process. Edge enhancement is not an issue.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 sound mix has little to raise it above the crowd. It conveys the dialogue and music with clarity and precision, but there is no great sense of dynamicism to it, which again may be the fault of the film itself. There is minimal engagement of the surrounds. A Dolby Digital 2.0 surround mix is also included, as are English subtitles.
As for supplements, there are none, period. I guess Paramount knew what it had here and decided to spare reviewers further anguish.
The release of Bride of the Wind on DVD is another example of a studio wasting mastering facilities on a title that has little merit while catalogue items of value cry out for attention. One can’t complain with Paramount’s transfer efforts; it’s just that the film isn’t worthy of them. Another excellent opportunity to save time and money.