Sweet Land

Sweet Land


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

It's 1920, and Inge has travelled all the way to Minnesota to be married to a stranger called Olaf - but when she gets there, things don't go to plan. Having very little English, she finds it hard to understand. Excuses are made about paperwork, which she had thought was in order. The real reason is that, until she got there, nobody realised she was German. In the aftermath of the Great War, the close-knit farming community feels threatened by her unknown ways. Fortunately not everyone is unsympathetic and she is taken in by the family of Olaf's best friend. But Inge is angry at her situation, and she grows more determined to set things to rights as she and Olaf fall in love.

You'll probably recognise Elizabeth Reaser, who plays Inge, from Law And Order: Criminal Intent, and it's interesting to see what she can do in such a different role. Though her accent is occasionally shaky (and some of the German is poorly scripted), she's wonderful in the film's many silent moments, conveying the intermingled frustration and stoicism of a woman who refuses to back down. Tim Guinee has his work cut out for him acting alongside her in the less dramatic role of Olaf, yet he manages to give the character sufficient weight that we can believe in him as he gradually decides to take a stand. The always reliable Alan Cumming is on hand to provide some gentle comic relief and there's a host of good performances from the supporting cast.

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What's interesting about this film is that, whilst it clearly shows the suffering the couple face when shunned by the community, it's also sympathetic to the concerns of the nervous farming folk - and, in a sense, they're right to be wary, because things will never be the same after Inge's arrival. The change she brings about in Olaf and, more subtly, on other members of the community, is a real one, yet it's only one force in a complex community which serves to illustrate something of how modern America was built. Like Kazantzakis, the film parallels the early Socialists, America's nightmare, with early Christians, and questions the duties of the church in contributing to wider society. It also looks at the developing role of women and its importance in shaping the society we know today.

The setting for this drama is a simple on, but it's beautifully photographed, especially toward the end of the film when the focus is often on landscape. It's best seen on a big screen where those wide open spaces can make a proper impact. If it has a major weakness, it's in its rather awkward framing, which jumps around in time a little too much for us to develop a consistent idea of the younger characters - plus the older Inge (Lois Smith) looks nothing like Reaser's Inge - but overall it's an appealing, melodic love story which cinema-goers sick of formulaic Hollywood romances will find deeply refreshing.

Reviewed on: 08 Sep 2008
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A young German immigrant tries to make a place for herself in a suspicious 1920s American farming community.
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Director: Ali Selim

Writer: Ali Selim, based on the short story A Gravestone Made Of Wheat by Will Weaver

Starring: Elizabeth Reaser, Tim Guinee, Alan Cumming, Lois Smith, James Cada, Stephen Pelinski

Year: 2005

Runtime: 110 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: US


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