A phenomenal little dramedy that didn't get too much notice when it was released in a few theatres late last year, "Sweet Land" is the kind of movie that I wish I could have the pleasure of seeing more often. The little film takes place in rural Minnesota in the 1920's and focuses on Inge (Elizabeth Reaser, who has sort of a Robin Tuney thing going on), a young German woman who leaves her home for the United States in order to complete an arranged marriage with a man she's never met.
The man turns out to be Olaf (Tim Guinee), who is shocked to find that the beautiful young woman is German, as he unaware and Germans are not accepted in the small town during the war. The local minister (John Heard) refuses to marry the two, and they slowly find that the town seems to be growing smaller and smaller around them as the town grows suspicious of the German girl.
Olaf is a little suspicious himself initially, disappointed that his mail-order bride isn't what he expected her to be. The two initially are unsure of one another, but she gradually gets him to open up to her and, in turn, he finds himself beginning to fall for her. With the two moving out to the barn to live after their relationship causes a stir in the community, their close quarters also results in the two growing to appreciate one another. The middle of the film is told in flashback, as the opening is in present day, as is the closing.
Relative unknowns Guinee and Reaser are wonderful in their roles, sharing a tender, warm chemistry with one another and really portraying the blossoming of love in the kind of simple, heartwarming, classic, real way that rarely seems to be portrayed on-screen anymore. John Heard, Alan Cumming, Alex Kingston, Ned Beatty, Lois Smith and others provide great supporting efforts, as well.
Director Ali Selim has only directed one small film in the past, which makes this film all the more impressive, because it's difficult to believe that someone with not a whole lot of experience can make a movie so confident, so gorgeous and so historically accurate on a $1m budget. One also has to wonder about David Tumblety, the film's cinematographer, who delivers one of the prettiest movies I've seen in recent memory. The postcard-perfect scenery is captured in expertly composed, perfectly lit and richly textured images. Credit also has to go to costume designer Eden Miller, production designer James Bakkom, editor James Stanger and art director Emily Davis, all of whom (and others) have come together to create such a lovely and poetic work.
I had no idea what to expect when sitting down to watch "Sweet Land", but found it to be a rewarding, satisfying and memorable film that I can only hope is seen by many, many more people on DVD. I doubt that "Sweet Land" will get any sort of Oscar nomination, but it sure deserves it.
VIDEO "Sweet Land" is presented by 20th Century Fox in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The screening copy of the film that was provided offered very good image quality, with fine sharpness/detail and only a little bit of shimmering. However, this is still not the final copy and unfortunately, I cannot make any final comments on it, as the final copy may offer differing image quality.
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack offered excellent audio quality, although as one may expect, this was an almost completely dialogue-driven presentation. Audio quality was just fine, with crisp dialogue and a wonderfully rich and full presentation of Thomas Liberman and Mark Orton's beautiful, folksy score.
EXTRAS: Producer Gil Bellows, actors Tim Guinee and Elizabeth Reiser, director Ali Saliem and editor James Stranger sit down for a commentary that is a little dry at times, but quite informative. We find out a great deal about how the film was accomplished on the smaller budget (as well as financing a "non-commercial" picture), acting, story and characters and shooting on location. There's no time spent on praising everyone and small talk, the commentary definitely stays on track throughout the great majority of the running time.
The DVD offers a short "making of" documentary ("Sweet Land: A Labor of Love Story") and the trailer.
Final Thoughts: An absolutely outstanding period piece about acceptance and love, "Sweet Land" is simply a delightful film that I can't recommend highly enough.