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Sweet Land
 

Movies like Sweet Land arrive in theaters and often leave quickly.  There is simply too much coming out, and smaller movies do not have the funds for marketing.  In most cases, a quick death is fine, but for Sweet Land, hopefully people will take notice.  Here is a small, quiet, beautiful film about the American immigrant experience and life in a small town.  It is wonderfully acted, and shot on location in Minnesota.  Sweet Land feels relentlessly old fashioned - love blooms eventually, hard work and perseverance eventually pay off, but in a way that is comforting and joyous, not in one that is predictable and familiar.

The movie, adapted and directed by Ali Selim from the short story A Gravestone Made of Wheat by Will Weaver.  The narrative structure is unnecessarily complex - the movie is a flashback to the 1920s, but takes place in 2004, with another flashback to some point in the middle.  The movie is the love story between Inge Altenberg and Olaf Torvik.  Things begin badly for Altenberg, a mail order bride who arrives in rural Minnesota with minimal English skills and a picture of her future husband creased right over his face, effectively obscuring it.  Altenberg (Elizabeth Reaser, The Family Stone, Stay) is a beautiful German girl, who is shocked once she meets Torvik (Tim Guinee, Ladder 49, Personal Velocity).  Torvik is shy and socially awkward.

A larger shock is her nationality.  Everybody in the small community is of Norwegian descent, and assumed she was too.  The fact that she is German is dangerous.  It was a simpler time back then, so suspicions and misconceptions were high, especially right after the war.  After a brief stint with living with Torvik's neighbor, she makes the decision to move in with Torvik, who immediately moves to the barn to maintain a sense of decency.  Still, the town is scandalized.  The minister (John Heard, The Guardian, The Chumscrubber) refuses to marry them, and the town slowly isolates the two of them, even through Altenberg and Torvik have not come close to consummating their relationship. 

Sweet Land moves at a natural pace, allowing Torvik and Altenberg to grow to know each other in a believable way.  The two, wary of each other at first, slowly bond over long quiet stretches as they toil to work the land.  There isn't that much dialogue, and the surroundings are stark in a beautiful way.  Nothing but fields are around them.  Selim depicts this sense of isolation beautifully.  Reaser and Guinee give touching performances.  Reaser in particular if amazing to watch.  She has done television and some small movies before, but as Altenberg, she plays a strong, willful woman, and has to speak German and English with a German accent.  Each loves the other, but doesn't know how to show it.  Altenberg is completely alone in a strange country with strange customs.  Selim adds darker tones with the prejudices of the locals, but balances it out with softer, comedic moments. It's a touching movie, that deserves much more attention that it will probably get.

Mongoose Rates It: Really Good.
1 hour, 50 minutes, Rated PG for partial nudity and mild language.

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