10/09/2007

Sweet Land

Director: Ali Selim

Based on Will Weaver’s short story, “A Gravestone Made of Wheat,” screenwriter and director Ali Selim’s gorgeous and subtle love story earned three audience favorite festival awards and also earned Selim the Independent Sprit Award for Best First Feature. Sweet Land tells the story of Inge (Elizabeth Reaser) a foreign mail order bride in the 1920’s who journeys to southern Minnesota to wed Norweign farmer Olaf Torvik (Tim Guinee). However when Inge is brought to the church by Olaf and his loyal friend Frandsen (Alan Cumming), Minister Sorenson (John Heard) refuses to perform the ceremony when it is revealed that Inge is of German descent and the small farming community is prejudiced against a country that Americans are fighting against. The film, bookended by current day events surround the death of Inge and another flashback to Olaf’s death in the 60’s, takes awhile to get interested in as the many ambitious jumps in time and place and melancholy opening may confuse audience members the first time around. Sweet Land succeeds brilliantly when we finally get a solid sense of time and place with the extended flashback that comprises most of the film, which helps reveal the awkward courtship between the high-spirited and gorgeous Inge and the shy, mannered Olaf. Minneapolis native Ali Selim is the son of a first generation immigrant himself and he fills Sweet Land with authenticity, beauty and charm and David Tumbletys breathtaking and sweeping cinematography has drawn numerous comparisons to Days of Heaven. In fact, despite its structural flaws, Land seems like the more accessible of the two works due to the sheer likability of the actors involved and winning characterizations. A stellar sleeper movie that made an independent film splash when it was released in select cities in 2006, now that the film has been released on DVD, I’m hoping it will finally receive the audience it deserves. Selim, much like his leading lady Elizabeth Reaser who earned a Best Actress award from Newport Beach Film Festival, fully deserve more future cinematic projects and it will be interesting to see what both individuals choose next for their careers.