Film Reviews

SWEET LAND

By • Dec 1st, 2006 •

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Released by Libero, LLC
Rated by the MPAA: PG / Running Time: 110 minutes

In his feature-film directorial debut, Ali Selim, a commercial director with over 850 commercials to his credit, has made a movie that is the antithesis of the 30-second, quick-paced, hard-sell television spot that made him one of Ad Week Magazine’s top 1% of most sought-after commercial directors.

SWEET LAND, also scripted by Selim, is a beautiful, meticulously paced story of three generations of the Torvik family and their connection to a Minnesota family farm. Inspired by Will Weaver’s short story, “A Gravestone Made of Wheat,” the film concentrates on the love story of Olaf Torvik (Tim Guinee), a Norwegian farmer living in Minnesota, and Inge Altenberg (Elizabeth Reaser), who has just arrived from Germany for their arranged marriage. Immediately, the small 1920 Minnesotan community is suspicious of her German heritage and lack of immigration papers. The conflict intensifies when Minister Sorrensen (John Heard) stops Olaf and Inge’s wedding because she speaks only German, and only English is to be spoken in church. The Minister then discovers that she does not have the proper immigration papers.

Unable to live with Olaf until they are properly married, Inge must stay with Olaf’s friend and neighbor farmer, Frandsen (Alan Cummings), along with his wife, Brownie (Alex Kingston), and their numerous children (appearing to be more than 10!). Befriended by Brownie, Inge soon becomes comfortable in a routine of helping with the chores and taking care of the children. It is soon revealed that Frandsen is broke and the bank is going to foreclose on his farm. Inge, not wanting to be a burden, packs her suitcase and leaves to live with Olaf.

Olaf takes her in begrudgingly; he knows full well that the community will consider an unmarried couple living together blasphemy. In order to maintain his integrity, he gives up his bed to Inge and sleeps in the barn. During the days they work together to maintain the farm and harvest the crop, they begin to fall in love and truly yearn to be together. But Olaf begins to crack under the pressure of not being able to love Inge openly, the problems with the crops, and the scorn of the community.

The film moves skillfully from the main story of Inge and Olaf in 1920 to the present day of Lars (Patrick Heusinger), their grandson, and his decision whether or not to keep the farm or to sell after the death of Inge. At no time did the transitions between past and present seem forced or confusing, revealing the generational connections and the power of a family homestead.

Tim Guinee and Elizabeth Reaser are wonderfully cast as the loving couple that must hide their feelings because of an overly religious society. Alan Cummings, who helped produce the film and was instrumental in getting it made, displays his particular charm and humor. However, he seems out of place here, too modern to be a credible 1920’s Minnesota farmer. Every time he comes on screen, even during a serious moment, you want to giggle because of his whimsical Stan Laurel smile.

The film’s cinematography by David Tumblety is reminiscent of Terrence Malick’s 1978 film DAYS OF HEAVEN. Production design and period clothing give the film an air of realism. Modern audiences may not appreciate its slow pacing and meticulous storytelling, but Ali Selim has created a film where the story, direction, acting, and pacing all work together in harmony to tell a story devoid of Hollywood’s moneymaking formulas.


Credits:
Writer/Director: Ali Selim
Producers: Jim Bigham, Alan Cummings, Ali Selim
Executive Producers: Gill Holland, Lillian LaSalle
Co-Produced: Robert Selim
Editor: James R. Stanger
Cinematographer: David Trumblety
Production Designer: James R. Bakkom
Composer: Mark Orton
Costume Designer: Eden Miller
Sound Designer: Randy Bobo

Cast:
Inge Altenberg: Elizabeth Reaser
Olaf Torvik: Tim Guinee
Frandsen: Alan Cumming
Brownie: Alex Kingston
Harmo: Ned Beatty
Minister Sorrensen: John Heard
Olaf Torvik (as an older man): Robert Hogan
Rose Torvik: Karen Landry
Inge (as an older woman): Lois Smith
Comrade Vik: Tom Gilroy
Lars: Patrick Heusinger

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