Written by Nobuhiro Hosoki
With scenes of grain fields stretched out under a pure blue sky, "Sweet Land" captures the American heartland with its backbone of morality and admiring love. Armed with a huge gramophone and a couple of suitcases, a feisty young German immigant, Inge (Elizabeth Reaser)arrives in a tight-knit Norwegian community in the 1920s. A post-World War I mail-order bride, she hopes for a better life but instead stumbles into prejudice, obstacles she partially creates for herself due to her lack of vocabulary--she can utter only a few useless words like "I could eat a horse."
After sizing up her husband-to-be, Olaf (Tim Guinee), a stoic, intense farmer, and meeting his best friend Frandsen (Alan Cumming), a loving but childlike father of nine, she wants to go through with the marriage. But the local minister, Rev. Sorrensen (John Heard), puts on his best face as an interpreter of the ways of God and refuses to perform the ceremony without seeing her immigration documents. In this small town, harsh memories of the war are still festering.
Slowly, her neighbors' suspicions run high. The couple faces a series of troubles, and has to deal with the threat of foreclosure by the local conniving banker, Harmo (Ned Beatty). But even while facing these challenges, and the constant struggle of language barrier, Inge is determined to accept life as it is, and lends her hand to the harvest in order to bond with her farming community.
The film is based on Will Weaver's short novel, "A Gravestone Made of Wheat," which takes readers into a glimpse of the fertile heartland. Although some of the flashbacks in the opening sequence seem mispalced, first-time director Ali Selim, who earned his signature in commercials, has a clear vision of filmmaking. This time he keenly deploys his method to depict a picturesque landscape that has a character all its own, and introduces moments of comic touch that confer a palpable definition to each character. Elizabeth Reaser is sure to be reckoned with among young actresses.
She is convincing as a European immigrant, even though she grew up in Michigan; she nails a sputtering German accent with a delightful yet strong performance. When two lovebirds battle through confusion with steely minds and good faith, we realize that this is what our country has been founded on. Audiences in a country created by immigrants will be sure to embrace this film with much affection.
Directed by Ali Selim
Written by Mr. Selim
Based on the short story "A Gravestone Made of Wheat," by Will Weaver
Director of photography: David Tumblety
Edited by James R. Stanger
Music by Mark Orton
Production designer:James R. Bakkom
Produced by Jim Bigham
Alan Cumming and Mr. Selim
Released by Libero.
Running time: 110 minutes.
Cast: Elizabeth Reaser (Inge Altenberg)
Tim Guinee (Olaf Torvik)
Alan Cumming (Frandsen)
Alex Kingston (Brownie)
Ned Beatty (Harmo)
John Heard (Minister Sorrensen)
Robert Hogan (Olaf Torvik as an older man)
Karen Landry (Rose Torvik),
and Lois Smith (Inge as an older woman).