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Bride of the Wind attempts to enshrine Alma Schindler, the turn-of-the-century Viennese beauty notable for her liaisons with famous artists, as the muse of her era. But as portrayed by Sarah Wynter in Bruce Beresford’s biopic, she comes across as little more than a peevish pincushion who initiates affairs with gifted men, then abandons them for stifling her independence.
Marilyn Levy’s screenplay bites off far more than it can masticate by cramming Alma’s relationships with composer Gustav Mahler, painters Gustav Klimt and Oskar Kokoschka, architect Walter Gropius, and poet/novelist Franz Werfel into 99 minutes. (If Almareferred to as “Mahler” by her biographers but sniffily listed under her maiden name in the Grove Dictionary of Musicinspired her paramours as profoundly as the film indicates, surely her story requires at least a five-part miniseries.) Levy, an author of young-adult novels, barely allows time for each lover to deliver a fortune-cookie artistic manifestoMahler proclaims, “A symphony should be like the world: It should contain everything”; Gropius spouts a one-liner about the relationship between architectural form and functionbefore Alma grows tired of him and moves on to her next conquest. After a while, one abandons keeping track of which men she actually married and which fathered her children (who conveniently disappear whenever Mom embarks on a new fling).
Lavishly produced on location in Vienna, Bride of the Wind (the title derives from Kokoschka’s expressionist painting depicting his lovemaking with Alma) unfolds like a series of tableaux vivants. Beresford is obsessed with period decoration and costumesAlma appears to have spent more time with her dressmaker than with her lovers and offspringat the expense of developing characters and animating his cast. Despite newcomer Wynter’s unconventionally striking feline looks and commanding physical presence, she’s given so little to work with that one can’t determine whether she’s capable of acting. Jonathan Pryce, as Mahler, makes what he can of a self-centered genius stereotype. Vincent Perez’s brooding, stubbly Kokoschka seems to have wandered in from a Calvin Klein ad. Simon Verhoeven’s feeble performance as Gropius barely registers, and Gregor Seberg’s Werfel amounts to scarcely more than a plump, good-natured enabler, on whose broad beaches Alma finds harbor after her more tempestuous flings have been flung.
As Bride of the Wind unreels, offering nothing to engage the mind or emotions, one can’t help noticing how closely it resembles Monty Python’s spoofs of Tchaikovsky, Proust, and other cultural titans. Resentful of Mahler’s demand that she abandon her own dreams of a composing career in order to raise their children, Alma snarls, “I hate you and your Jewish music!” After the possessive Kokoschka is reported killed on a World War I battlefield, his vindictive mother shows up at Alma’s house with a gun in her purse. Informed of her presence by a servant, Alma reflects, “I was never popular with mothers.” Kokoschka, who goes to war outraged by Alma’s determination to abort their child, survives his wounds and unexpectedly returns, delighted to find her pregnant. Like a patient biology teacher tutoring a naive child, she’s forced to remind him that he’s been gone for a year.
Unless you choose to regard Bride of the Wind as a deadpan costume farce, the film makes no sense. Beresford and Levy try to palm Alma off as a proto-feminist free spirita notion that doesn’t wash, because she defines herself by her associations with more gifted males. (Several interludes depicting Alma alone at the piano playing her own compositions fail to suggest that Mahler had any reason to consider her an artistic rival.) In an educational coda, the filmmakers inform us about the subsequent achievements and fates of their characters. Alma and Werfel ended up in Hollywood, where his best-selling novel The Song of Bernadette became an Oscar-winning movie. Had Beresford been seriously interested in creating a feminist heroine, he might have considered remaking Werfel’s story about a visionary peasant girl devoted to serving the Virgin Mary rather than glorifying a groupie who shags all the artists in town.
I regret to report that I found more merriment in Bride of the Wind than in Ivan Reitman’s deadly sci-fi comedy Evolution. Recycling the formula that paid off for him in Ghostbusters nearly two decades ago, Reitman pits a ragtag band of human beingsminor-league Arizona academics David Duchovny and Orlando Jones, frosty scientist Julianne Moore, and would-be firefighter Seann William Scottagainst an otherworldly menace. This time around, extraterrestrial organisms rapidly evolving into monstrous creatures replace poltergeists.
Any wit or imagination that David Diamond, David Weissman, and Don Jakoby managed to sneak into their screenplay must have been excised in the editing process. What remains is interminable exposition and a wan romantic subplot that dims Duchovny’s low-key charm and Moore’s crisp beauty. The movie’s sole points of interest are its slimy monsters, frighteningly executed by the Jurassic Park F/X team, which overwhelm Reitman’s feeble anal-probe and fart gags. Predictably, Evolution culminates in a series of noisy explosions, followed by a coda promoting Head & Shoulders shampoo, Hollywood’s most blatant product placement to date. I’ve had more fun in the showeralonethan I did while struggling to stay awake until the end of this 105-minute fiasco. CP