(Nyfes, Pantelis Voulgaris, Greece, 2004)


Pantelis VoulgarisBrides strikes a deep chord with many audiences. Its central situation – Greek women in the 1920s travelling to other countries in order to marry men they only know from photos or letters – is one that resonates with much immigrant experience.

Brides has a perfectly elegant narrative structure. It opens with a glimpse of the homeland in Samothrace that is soon to be left behind by Niki (Victoria Haralabidou), a seamstress. Her situation as a mail-order bride is, in fact, unique: her sister has already been to America and returned, and now Niki is being sent to the same, dissatisfied man.

Most of the film is taken up with the long journey over the sea. There is a touch of James Cameron’s Titanic (1997) in the depiction of life on this vessel, divided between the affluent, ever-partying folk in first class and the horde of brides in third class.

Finally, reality in all its promise and terror asserts itself when the ship arrives at its destination. But, before then, there is time and space on board the ship for an attraction that feels illicit even as it unfolds quite innocently: a photographer, Norman (Damian Lewis), is drawn to the wiry, sometimes melancholic Niki – neither of whom (in time-honoured movie romance fashion) quite seem belong to the respective social classes they represent.

Partly produced by Martin Scorsese, Brides overreaches itself somewhat in trying to pad out this simple premise. Steven Berkoff does his usual histrionic turn as Karaboulat, a character who embodies all the evil and immorality of "black market" capitalism. Voulgaris multiplies the minor roles: around Niki mill the brides-to-be, pining for their lost loves and struggling to accept their fate in a new world; and around Norman spin the wealthy matrons who dance their twilight years away.

Although there is a little too much going on in Brides, it is carried by its two leads. Lewis brings a soulful presence to an underwritten part, and manages not to come off like an ugly American in the midst of such a feast of European culture and manners. Haralabidou – now resident in Australia and recently part of the Stuff Happens stage cast – is a revelation. Voulgaris gives her performance a wonderful (if chilling) grace note in a key scene that plays on every woman’s fear of getting old too soon.

© Adrian Martin September 2005

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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