Movie Reviews
11:22 am
Tue January 16, 2007

Sweet Land

Selim finds Malick

"Remember, remember always that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists." Franklin D. Roosevelt

Terrence Malick's Days of Heaven set in the Texas farmland of the early last century has enough melodrama to satisfy the leanest soap-opera longing. The opposite of that film is Sweet Land, set in the farmlands of Minnesota with a Norwegian culture that would make Puritans turn around and run. German Inge (Elizabeth Reaser) comes to America as a mail-order bride during WWII.

Nobody in Minnesota except Inge's prospective groom and his friendly neighbor, Frandsen (Alan Cumming), is comfortable with a German in their congregation. Thus ensues the conflict pitting this innocent immigrant and her na?ve but endearing future husband, Olaf (Tim Guinee), against a xenophobic, bigoted congregation, embodied in the pastor, Rev. Sorrensen (John Heard).

Flannery O'Connor's Displaced Person depicts a similar situation where the outsider is shunned but still influences the lives of the entire town because of his charismatic yet unobtrusive idealism. In Sweet Land, Inge will not be denied her right to love Olaf and live a productive farm life. She's a heroine to be admired, strong willed, silently sexy, and growing daily in her understanding of English and American life. It would be impossible for any healthy heterosexual not to be moved by the delicious restriction that makes Olaf sleep in the barn before he and Inge marry.

First-time director Ali Selim has found the Malick genius for depicting vast mid-west landscapes as metaphor for romantic, isolating worlds where the struggle for independence is more difficult than on the busy streets of New York. Director Selim and cinematographer Davis Tumbley have created compositions so rich in period spirit that the long shots following extreme close-ups beautifully reinforce the theme of the individual against the collective indifference of the land and congregation.

Sweet Land is a small film about small people in a small world where "banking and farming don't mix." The contemporary resonance is obvious: To brand all Muslims in our midst as terrorists is to make the fatal logistic flaw of generalizing from few instances. Sweet Land goes on to show that all parts of this world do mix, leading to a melting pot that is surely a hoped-for 21st?century America.