Sweet Land Reviews
[font=Century Gothic]"Sweet Land" is a charming and luminous movie with a good cast but sadly the climax is both predictable and contrived. The movie's structure is rather intriguing as its framing sequence is set in not one time period, but two; the 1960's where Inge's husband has died and the present day where Inge's grandson, Lars, now middle-aged considers selling the family land. These two settings set up the major themes of the movie, love and the importance of land, perfectly.(A common refrain is "farming and banking don't go together.") This is love not just in a romantic sense but for all of humanity and all nationalities.(At one point in the past, everybody in this country had an ancestor who came here from somewhere else.) The main setting, the 1920's, is an age of progress(which sadly does not include birth control) for the farmers but also one of economic turbulence. [/font]
The whole movie rest on Elizabeth Reaser as the audience's point of access and pivotal role in the movie (and by the way she does not speak English and none of the farmers speak German including her husband-to-be). She is excellent at conveying her emotions and frustration as an intelligent woman who is trapped by her lack of effective communication and the prejudices of German Americans during WWII. Highly recommended for 3rd generations immigrants who have only heard their grandparents story.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Here's a film that aspires to be included in the ranks of European Art Films but unfortunately doesn't quite make the grade. Before we flashback to the main story, we're treated to two "flash forward" scenes: one set in the 60s when the main character, Inge, buries her husband and another scene twenty or so years later when the grandson buries Inge. Instead of getting right into the story which is set in 1920s Minnestoa, we're treated to quite a bit of slow-paced, unnecessary exposition. When we finally do get to the core of the story, where Inge (well played by Elizabeth Reaser) comes to America, we find out little about the personalities of the characters.
Most of the first half of the movie deals with Inge trying to cope with a hostile community where she barely speaks any English (it's not really explained very clearly, but Inge is a mail-order bride from Norway but she's actually German who's been living in Norway). Her husband-to-be Olaf, is a Norwegian-American who is unable to communicate with her in German (it appears that he can speak Norwegian and so can she--well at least I thought I heard her speak some Norwegian during the film) but they choose not to because the town minister insists that she only speak English. So quite unconvincingly, when they are alone, they never converse in Norwegian which would probably help her to learn English a lot faster.
Reaser does a good job at showing how difficult it is learning a new language and there are some scenes that are fairly compelling as Inge and her hard-working farmer-husband learn to love each other. But beyond that what do we find out about the characters in this film? Well there's Olaf, who's a bit of a Stoic but also a real good guy who saves his best friend's farm by bidding for it at an auction (even though he doesn't have the money!). And of course there's the minister, who is caught up in the anti-German hysteria of the day and gives Inge a real hard time. But of course, he's really not such a bad guy after all because eventually he inexplicably comes to accept her. And in fact, all the neighbors, who at first appear as though they're going to start a witch-hunt against Olaf and his potential bride, suddenly have a change of heart and actually give Olaf the cash to buy his best friend's farm which prevents the family from being evicted.
1920 Minnesota doesn't prove to be much of a bad place after all--not a bad apple amongst the suspicious neighbors who all turn out to collectively have hearts of gold. It's comfortable like a Hallmark Greeting Card but does not bode well for good drama which needs more of a sinister protagonist to keep things interesting. As we step back into 1920, we feel the author only has a superficial sense of what it was like to live back in that time. Oh yes, there's a nice attempt to recreate the look of the period with the old Model-T cars and gramophones but without in-depth characters, the film ultimately proves to be an exercise in sentimental storytelling.