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Sweet Land touched my heart. My roots are from the same farming background as Olaf and Inge's. Seeing them brought back stories and memories of my own growing up and family history. It slowed down the pace for just a little while and brought back into focus what should really matter in life--and that is the people you journey though it with. The story is simple and yet it is far deeper and more touching than most movies that hit the screen today. It is a story of hardship and the joy and pride that come from hard work. It is a love story and a story of strength. And it is a story with humor and valuable lessons that I believe America's heartland was raised on. It also shares a mindset of a time gone by, an understanding of why our grandparents and parents thought as they did and believed the things they believed. When we know and understand the past, it helps shape and lead us to the future. I appreciate the time and energy that went into the making of this film. It is a treasure.
As a total movie addict, I was very surprised after attending a
screening of this film to be so overwhelmed by the quality of the
photography and the depth of the acting.
The visual images in this film are simple, yet breathtakingly beautiful in their composition. It is a rare masterpiece with amazing use of time, depth and perspective. The development of the romantic tension between the main characters in the love story was so powerful and yet so subtle, that it was like a fresh breath mint on a cold January morning.
The used of time and flashbacks is amazing, and the editing and pace of the movie is very accomplished for an independent, low budget film. I will not be surprised if I hear about this move at Oscar time.
This is the story of a German mail order bride who moves to a small,
Minnesota town filled with Norwegians who don't exactly embrace
The movie creates a palatable tension between doing what you need to do to fit in with your community (what you're "supposed" to do) and finding love with someone who is different (what you should do).
That message resonates in today's political climate.
A funny, poignant, wonderfully acted movie, Sweet Land has the confidence to treat us as if we are intelligent. It lets us fill in the blanks and trusts us to understand what's going on without telling us everything. While this makes us work a little rather than sit back and be spoon fed the entertainment, the effort is well worth it.
For example, when characters speak German, instead of using subtitles, the filmmakers know we'll get the gist of the scene - even though we don't get the exact verbiage. Selim lets the emotion carry us and it works. This is delicate work but it's handled with care and talent.
Sweet Land is about how love is stronger than fear.
Very, very good movie...the kind they don't make in Hollywood. I'd compare it to Jean de Florette and the sequel Manon of the Spring. It's a simple story with complex emotions where the smallest details, like someone taking a huge bite of potatoes, say a lot.
'Sweet Land' manages a difficult feat: it is a historical film with a
clear message for the present, yet it avoids becoming either
nostalgically cloying or preachily shrill. "Banking and farming don't
mix" is not merely a phrase heard several times; it is the key to the
confrontation of two utterly different, and utterly irreconcilable,
attitudes toward land and life. Ned Beatty, as the chief banker,
embodies the one, driven by money and power, harshly and repellently
(it's a superb performance), but he and his few allies, and what they
stand for, cannot completely overwhelm what most of the other
characters, major and minor, believe in and represent: the importance
of human connections, with each other and with the jobs they must carry
There is scarcely a false step in this film. Elizabeth Reaser brings Inge to life completely believably and very poignantly. We truly care about this woman, a fact made all the more astonishing when we realize that for a sizable part of the film she speaks in languages most of the American audience will not understand. It's one of the best performances I've seen in a long time. Similarly convincing is Tim Guinee as Olaf, her perplexed husband-to-be. His struggles to overcome prejudice (his own and that of his neighbors) are played with a delightful mix of humor, pathos, and inner strength which mirror the complex set of forces with which he must deal. Much the same could be said, albeit on a smaller scale, of the lesser parts; these performers inhabit these roles as if they had already lived them for real. Watch the interactions between Alan Cumming and Alex Kingston, for example; these are two people who are deeply and genuinely in love, but who recognize and accept the flaws of the other. There is no conventional 'happy marriage' insipidity here-- with the result that their marriage comes across as truly happy in a far more profound manner than so many others on screen.
Visually the film is often lovely. It is not as lusciously filmed as Terrence Malick's 'Days of Heaven', with which it shares an underlying approach, but it also avoids the occasional glossiness which undercut the down-to-earth elements of the earlier film's plot. Here the images rarely feel forced, and never overwhelm the intense sense of physical presence so vital to both plot and message. Also powerful is the use of two framing stories, linked to but not dependent upon the central plot. Indeed, the emotional climax of the film actually resides in the contemporary story, something we will not realize until almost the very end of the film. What seems a mere narrative trick suddenly resonates with tremendous power, and brings home the film's central theme beautifully yet without undue emphasis.
The flaws are few. The music, usually vaguely folksy without being especially engaging, is more than once rather too modern in its feel and too diffuse in its impact to support the visuals. The music is the weakest element in the film; at times it sounds almost as if the decision to add music was taken so late in production that all that was possible was some improvisational doodling, which fits neither the delicately shaped mood nor the careful pacing and structuring of the action. The important part of Minister Sorrensen is a bit awkwardly written, with his changes of outlook being rather too sudden; John Heard's performance, though thoughtful, could likewise be more nuanced (he was probably responding to the part as written, but in this case he would have been better off to play against the script).
'Sweet Land' is a beautiful, funny, and often very moving film, with a deep and respectful sense of history and human relations. Both the action and the thoughts it provokes will linger long after the curtain closes. The film has much to offer, and I recommend it very highly.
i knew nothing about it before i saw sweet land at a film "class" preview. what a wonderful surprise. it is slow, thoughtful, with frames that are like beautiful photographs. the director gets more across with silence and facial expressions than most dialogue does. the actors are unique individuals - each performance a gem. and, the story is touching - the decent salt of the earth assimilated farmers who feel threatened by "other" outsiders. the two main characters beautifully portrayed as they work side by side and get to know each other. unique heartland music that respects the acting and dialogue and enhances without taking over at all. i highly recommend this for filmgoers who want to be touched and immersed. kudos to ali selim and fine company.
I was also able to view this beautiful film at a pre-screening in Northfield through St. Olaf and Carleton Colleges. I cannot praise this film enough. I am so excited to have Ali make more films and so anxious for this film to be released in theaters so that everyone may enjoy it. I also stayed after the film for a Q&A with Ali (the director) and it was really interesting to hear him speak about the film. Fantastic film, gorgeous filming, heartfelt story. Tears rolled down my face at the end; extremely touching film. I think people of all ages will appreciate this film. The director comes from commercial work and advertising so his transition to film was interesting to hear about, but it seemed to be extremely successful! I can't say enough about Sweet Land!
This film is marvelous, I was able to have a sneak peak as a student here at the U of M because my teacher (Tom Pope) actually aided in the screenplay of this wonderful debut. Avoiding all the clichés of a typical Hollywood romance, this one doesn't go strait for the tear ducts but if it doesn't warm those puppies up by the end than you're a heartless person. Excellent cast, story and directing, I cannot wait till this is out there for the public. There was a Q&A afterward with the director (Ali) and the producers, and it was so interesting to hear and see their processes in their own words, wonderful men who deserve all the success in the world with this film, a great movie for all ages, truly original and moving.
I attended the screening of Sweet Land in Montevideo on October 26. Originally scheduled for 2 shows each on 2 nights, the response was so overwhelming more shows were added.Sweet Land turned out to be a great love story that people of all ages can enjoy. I know I enjoyed it tremendously.. Spectacular acting producing and directing. Breathtaking rural Minnesota scenery. A stellar cast that features relative newcomers to experienced performers. I would love to tell you more but it would explain too much of the plot. With that all I can say is you will enjoy a great down to earth movie.. Truly a great job Ali, and all that were involved in the project. I cannot wait to see it again and look forward to when it hits the big screens across the country.
Delightful, richly imagined story of a young immigrant woman who comes
from Norway to Minnesota in 1919 as a "mail order bride" to marry a
Norwegian farmer. By turns slapstick funny, tender, ironic and sad,
this movie successfully evokes the difficult life of foreign
homesteaders in a new land, in a story told simply, with no pretensions
and with a wondrous range of nuances.
We confront outrageous instances of religious, ethnic and political bigotry, and the cruel predations of wealthy money lenders who don't blink an eye when pressing foreclosures, ruining families who have sat elbow to elbow with them at church every Sunday for years. But we also see examples of kindheartedness, longing for love and gradually dawning romance, individual integrity and group justice, not to mention hilarious moments, both intentional and unintended.
Inge (Elizabeth Reaser, a luminous beauty) is the stalwart German woman who comes to marry the reticent Olaf (Tim Guinee), who had thought she was Norwegian like him, since she came from a town in Norway. Olaf is a character straight out of a Garrison Keillor monologue: he's the quintessential shy Norwegian bachelor farmer.
Inge, on the other hand, is deferential only because she can't speak English or Norwegian, only German, and that only with the church pastor, Rev. Sorrensen (John Heard), who refuses to conduct the wedding because Inge has no citizenship papers and, ironically, he is suspicious of her German roots, in a time when anti-German sentiment was still at a peak following WW I. Once Inge's got a handle on language, she starts to show her pluck, for, beneath her stunning physical beauty, Inge is in fact a forceful woman.
Comic relief is afforded in a marvelous turn by Alan Cumming as Frandsen, another - and altogether inadequate farmer. Rather than actually work at farming, Frandsen would much rather entertain his wife and nine kids, and his friends, with funny gestures and tunemaking. Cumming's performance reminds me of Ray Bolger as the scarecrow in Wizard of Oz, or Håkan Hagegård, as Papageno in Bergman's "The Magic Flute," or some of the masters of physical comedy in the silent film era. Rounding out a superb cast are Ned Beatty as Harmo, a ruthless banker, and Alex Kinston as Frandsen's wife, Brownie.
Director Ali Selim, a native of St. Paul, Minnesota, had a highly successful career making commercials for television before undertaking this picture, his debut feature narrative film. He worked from a short story by Bemidji writer Will Weaver, called "Gravestone Made of Wheat." The movie was shot on location in a rural area of southwest Minnesota. This film will leave you laughing and crying. It is a treasure. (In English, German and Norwegian) My grades: 8.5/10 (A-) (Seen on 12/26/06)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Had the chance to see this film last night at a special sneak peek in Irvine, CA. What a wonderful, warm, soulful film. If you're looking for car crashes, explosions, being hit over the head, this is NOT the film for you! However, if you want to fall in love with a movie that is thoughtful, reveals its story slowly, is honest and authentic in it's depiction of two people truly falling in love, among lush photography, then run, don't walk to the theatre when it plays in your community. The film traces the life of a mail order bride who arrives in a new land with hopes for a new life - an era that is true to the spirit of all those who came to this country at the turn of the 20th century. Acting is top-notch - particularly in the use of silence. This is a quiet film - it builds moment upon moment until you find yourself at the end memorized and joyful. This film has lingered with me all the following day as I re-play scenes in my head. Score is a pitch-perfect compliment. This is not a film to be missed. I can't wait to see it again.
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