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Sweet Land (2005)
Friday, December 1, 2006
Elisabeth Deeser, Tim Guinee, Ned Beatty, Alan Cummings
Ali Selim, Will Weaver
Winner of the Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature at the 2005 Hamptons International Film Festival, Sweet Land is a poignant and lyrical celebration of land, love, and the American immigrant experience.
When Lars Torvik’s grandmother Inge dies in 2004, he is faced with a decision – sell the family farm on which she lived since 1920, or cling to the legacy of the land. Seeking advice, he turns to the memory of Inge and the stories that she had passed on to him.
Inge arrives in Minnesota in 1920 to marry a young Norwegian farmer named Olaf but her German heritage and lack of official immigration papers makes her an object of suspicion in the small town, and she and Olaf are forbidden to marry. Alone and adrift, Inge goes to live with the family of Olaf’s friend and neighbor Frandsen and his wife Brownie, where she learns the English language, American ways, and a hard-won independence.
Inge and Olaf slowly come to know each other, and against the backdrop of endless farmland and cathedral skies they fall in love, a man and woman united by the elemental forces of nature. Still unable to marry, they live together openly, despite the scorn of the neighbors and the disapproval of the local minister. But when his friend Frandsen’s farm is threatened by foreclosure, Olaf takes a stand, and the community unites around the young couple, finally accepting Inge as one of their own.
Sweet Land (2005) | Review
Sweet Land, Sweeter Love (Manson)
The sad news is that this film is in very limited release and many people will not get a chance to see it and appreciate it until it makes it to DVD. If it comes near you, it is an opportunity that should not be passed.
It's the story of Inge, a mail order bride who arrives in Minnesota in 1920 to marry Olaf whom she has never met. When it is discovered that she is German, every opinion of her shifts. The prejudice from the recent war still colors the local impression of German people. She doesn't have the proper papers to marry and no one seems to want to help. She is isolated by language, prejudice and eventually by community moral standards. In time, she finds her place in the community and with Olaf. It is not a story of love at first sight. Rather it is a story of learning to love by sharing life--a slow dance of discovery.
Just as the film was a treasure we didn't expect to find, so, too, does Inge become an unexpected treasure to Olaf and the whole community.
The story is framed by the story of Inge's death and her grandson's decision about what to do with the farm. It is by remembering the story of Inge and Olaf and what the land meant to them that helps him make a difficult choice. His memories are not so much about grief as they are a celebration of the life of these people he loved.
There is a subtlety to the film that is often lacking in bigger films. Interestingly, Director Ali Selim has worked mostly on TV commercials, which are not known for subtlety. The story relies very little on dialogue. The director is comfortable with silence and image to tell much of the story. At times he uses images to relate one part of the story to another. For example, a scene of Olaf and Inge walking through the field after harvest reminds us of watching their adult grandson walk through the field as he contemplates selling the land.
There are also subtle echoes in the dialogue. One of Olaf's favorite sayings is "Farming and banking don't mix." But the first real dialogue in the film is when a developer drives out to the farm and talks to the grandson after Inge's death: "I'm sorry for you loss, Lars. I can give you 2.2 million for it--put up twelve hundred houses." The value of this land for some (bankers and developers) can be quantified. But for Olaf (and his grandson), the value is much more elusive because the land is the life that Olaf and Inge have put into it.
The film speaks to issues that we continue to struggle with in daily life, including prejudice towards immigrants, stereotypes, community, and the ways our sense of decency can become a hindrance to real morality. It is a story that shows us the way that faith in ourselves and in each other can create a treasure beyond our expectations.
The closing credits are perhaps my favorite scenes of this year. It is a perfect wordless synopsis of the whole relationship of Inge and Olaf, and of the way community comes into being in the film.
Copyright © 2006 Hollywood Jesus. All rights reserved.
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