Sweet Land

This 2006 movie is a winner of multiple film awards, for eg the Independent Spirit Award for Best First Feature. Inspired by the short story A Gravestone Made Of Wheat by Will Weaver, it is a lovely, old-fashioned tale of love, struggle and endurance that doubles as a commentary on immigrations and the American identity.

Inge Altenberg (Elizabeth Reaser) is a fiesty German mail-order bride who has come to Minnesota to marry Olaf Torvik (Tim Guinee), a young Norwegian immigrant farmer of a few words. Despite being forbidden to marry because of the anti-German climate after World War II, Inge and Olaf fall in love.

Olaf’s friend Alvin Frandsen (Alan Cumming) was their best man. With a wife and ten children, Olaf had difficulty paying the banker (Ted Beatty) who wants to foreclose his farm, and Olaf takes a stand. The whole community unites, and finally accept Inge as one of their own.

Other than the great cinematography and the visual effects, I also appreciate the archival clips and the music (from harmonium to percussion to piano to autoharp to clarinet to accordion to guitar, banjo and bass harmonica), many of which are specially composed by Mark Orton and Carla Kila Istedt.

What comes through most clearly is the character of Inge – she has both stubborness and strength, and doesn’t take no for an answer. (“In my heart, I believe.”) It is fascinating to see her growing through her hardship and the prejudices against her. The message seems to be that prejudices run through people’s lives, but we also see how people love each other. It is about feeling being lost and alone in the world and trying to find a way to connect with someone else and to be true to ourselves.

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