Every Monday night is movie night. We go out to dinner with my mother and sometimes some other friends and then go to see the movie at the Fountain Theatre. Tonight’s movie was Sweet Land. Based on a short story by Will Weaver, “A Gravestone Made of Wheat,” published in Sweet Land: New and Selected Stories this is a beautiful movie on many levels: the story, the acting, the cinematography, the music and the movie which becomes more than the sum of all of these. We are transported to 1920s Minnesota, where we meet Inge Alltenburg who has just arrived from Germany as a mail-order bride to marry Olaf Torvik, a Norwegian man who lives there.
We watch Inge and her would-be husband, Torvik, come to love each other. We see a community’s love for its members overcome small-town expectations of conformity and war-time xenophobia. Finally, we view the love of family and tradition passed on from generation to generation. There is no violence in this movie, nor any car chases. Yet, it is a gripping movie, one that pulls you into its characters’ lives and emotions.
The acting is seamless – this is the first movie I have seen in a long time where I was never conscious of actors acting. The clip Making of Sweetland is aptly subtitled Labor of Love, for the love that director and screenwriter, Ali Selim and the cast and crew, put into this movie is apparent from start to finish.
The cinematography is masterful. The film is a visual treat throughout, with tasteful but understated use of weather and lighting to set the stage and the mood for each scene, whether in the current day or the flashbacks into Inge’s memories and stories. There are no gimmicks nor flashy camera work, but intelligent and creative use of the camera to let us be part of the story. Some interesting and unusual shots take us deeper into certain scenes (we look through a camera lens as Olaf takes a picture of Inge soon after her arrival), but these are used tastefully and without breaking the flow of the film.
Mark Orton’s sound track sets the mood subtly but effectively. No catchy tunes but beautiful and sometimes haunting melodies provide yet another perfectly melded component of the movie.
Sweet Land succeeds beautifully as a joyful, romantic and loving film. Rarely have I seen movies that blended all of the components: story, acting, cinematography, music, costumes, so seamlessly that I was drawn completely into the characters world for the entire film. Go see it if you can find it at a theater near you.