Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Sweet Land

Sweet Land (Ali Selim, 2006) [8]
After receiving this and reading the synopsis on the sleeve, I wasn't that enthusiastic about viewing this. Period romance pictures just aren't something that I have that much interest in. Sweet Land proved me wrong as I was pleasantly surprised by numerous elements of the film. Selim's direction is suberbly poised for a first time director. This is a slow-paced, subdued film, mirroring the setting, post WWI Minnesota. A quiet farmer named Olaf (Tim Guinee) sends for a mail-order bride from Norway, Inge (Elizabeth Reaser). Olaf finds out that Inge is in fact German, which doesn't sit well with the pre-conceived prejudices of the community. Plus, Inge has no proof of citizenship, which means the couple cannot get married. The film centers on the blossoming relationship between the two as they come under scrutiny from the local community, especially the local minister. Selim shows great restraint in not stereotyping characters or overdoing his story, overloading it with too much dialogue or quirk. The film's strongest asset is its quietness, just letting Olaf and Inge awkwardly interact and find out about each other. Selim never rushes anything or tries to tell too much or reveal anything before its necessary. While the pace of the film could be considered slow, it's aided greatly by the look of the film, vibrant 35mm, which in my opinion, isn't seen enough. There are some exceptions when the film jumps in progression but it's not an issue because the center of the film is the love story. Guinee and Reaser give performances that could easily have been made mawkish but they are subtly nuanced and understated. That's what makes them work so well. Supporting roles by Alan Cumming, Ned Beatty, and John Heard are also well done. The roles aren't that big but they don't take anything away from the film

One word I keep going back to when describing this film is subtlety. This isn't a film that's going to win anybody over with over the top performances and lots of action. There's not even a big romantic resolution to Olaf and Inge's situation. They end up being accepted in the community but there's not a lot personally revealed. The film goes back and forth in time to show Olaf's and Inge's death and even then, I'm not completely sure if the realtionship is based on romance or a common reliance formed with each other during the main portion of the film. While this may be maddening to people that want more, it's this idea of restraint, in terms of film and story, that make Sweet Land a quiet surprise.

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