American photographer Norman Harris (Damian Lewis) is returning from Asia Minor to New York in 1922, on board a ship leaving Turkey with 700 mail order brides from Russia, Greece, Armenia as well as Turkey. The girls have scant possessions other than their wedding dress, a trinket or two and a photo of the stranger they are destined to marry. Niki (Victoria Haralabidou), a seamstress, is heading for Chicago to marry a Greek tailor, after her older sister couldn't bear to live away from home and came back. Norman, having turned his back on photography, nevertheless is captivated by the young women with their sad eyes, and photographs them in their wedding gowns. He gets to know and eventually falls deeply in love with the betrothed Niki, but Niki feels the pull of duty to her family's honour. As the ship docks, Niki has to make a decision with her head for the future of her heart.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
It is not surprising that Martin Scorsese was the film's executive producer, as the evocative and engaging screenplay must have struck a chord with the son of Italian migrants. Brides is a moving insight into many lives at their crossroads, young women sent by their families to the New World in the hope of a better life. The film establishes the mood with its opening sequence set in the Greek village where Niki is one of four daughters, none of whom is yet married. This is both shameful and financially ruinous for the family.
The cultural context of the story provides much of the basic and ongoing tension for the film's dramatic arc, but the characters through whom the story is told soon emerge in their own right and engage us. Norman Harris, of Irish origin himself, is a decent young man who has deliberately walked away from his career. The girls, and Niki in particular, are making the journey towards a new life less by choice than by necessity or under pressure.
The ship's class structure (Norman travels in First, the girls in Third) is a contracted and emphasised model of the world outside, and the men and women involved in the passage of the brides are symbolic of the venal operators that populate our world to this day. There is the Russian intermediary Karaboulat (Steven Berkoff) who arranges the couplings, some of them not for marrying. There is the Captain (Dimitri Katalifos) who prefers not to get involved in any trouble for the sake of keeping the business; and there is the madam who takes a pragmatic view of the whole thing.
But then there are the young women, their hopes bobbing on a sea of insecurity as they sail towards their unknown fate. All this sets up a rich context for the playing out of the romance between Norman and Niki, with subplots and dramas that propel the story.
Excellent writing and direction are matched by outstanding performances, making this a bitter sweet film that touches our humanity.
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CAST: Damian Lewis, Victoria Haralabidou, Andrea Ferreol, Evi Soulidou, Dimitri Katalifos, Irini Iglesi, Evelina Papoulina, Steven Berkoff
PRODUCER: Barbara De Fina, Terry Dougas, Pantelis Voulgaris
DIRECTOR: Pantelis Voulgaris
SCRIPT: Ioanna Karystiani
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Yorgos Arvanitis
EDITOR: Takis Yannopoulos
MUSIC: Stamatis Spanoudakis
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Dimitris Katsikis
RUNNING TIME: 128 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Palace
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: Sydney & Melbourne: September 29, 2005 (other cities to follow)