Sweet Land

2006, Movie, PG, 110 mins


However beautiful the cinematography, commercial director Ali Selim's debut feature is a bland, drawn-out throwback to Jan Troell's '70s epics THE EMIGRANTS, THE NEW LAND and ZANDY'S BRIDE, in which Scandinavian immigrants build the backbone of a nation through hard work and mail-order brides. Tucked deep inside two unnecessary wrap-around narratives — in the first, set in present day Minnesota, a middle-age man considers selling the family farm after the death of his grandmother; in the second, set in the 1960s, Grandma (Lois Smith) prepares to bury her husband of 48 years — is the rather simple story of Inge (Elizabeth Reaser), a young German woman who, in 1920, is summoned to the U.S. by her future husband, sight unseen. Arriving at the small Minnesota train station with her gramophone, suitcase and a few useless English phrases ("You are trying to pull my leg."I could eat a horse,"), Inge is disappointed to learn that her bridegroom isn't Frandsen (Alan Cumming), the cheery, smiling farmer who's come to greet her, but his brooding friend, the gruff and handsome Olaf Torvik (Tim Guinee). Since Inge is not only German but a member of the Socialist Party, the local minister (John Heard) disapproves of Olaf's bride-to-be, and the judge (Wayne Evenson) is unwilling to marry the couple until he receives Inge's identification papers from Germany. In the meantime, Frandsen invites Inge to stay with his wife (Alex Kingston) and their seven children at his crowded homestead. Like a lot of farmers who made the mistake of "mixing business with farming," Frandsen is about to lose his land to a local swindler named Harmo (Ned Beatty), an unscrupulous banker who's rapidly building a real-estate empire out of foreclosed-upon farms. But when the living conditions at Frandsen's home prove too close for comfort, Inge begs Olaf to take her in, and while he runs the risk of ruining his good name, he agrees. They fall love, and scandalize the community. Selim works well with a small budget, and while the wardrobe may appear at times anachronistic, the real sore thumb here is the pale and oddly affected Cumming as a hard-scrabble father of seven. Cumming has made a career out playing just the opposite kind of character, and he now carries an unmistakable air of decadence that makes him seem far more at home in a smoky Weimar-era cabaret than the wide open skies of Minnesota. Mark Orton's overused fiddly score is nice enough, but can't disguise the essential emptiness of overlong scenes. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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