A while back I found a wonderful independent film that I can't say enough good things about. It's called Sweet Land and it is gorgeous and simple, and story that threads its way through love and generations and family. It's one of my favorites.
The film was written and directed by Ali Selim, and adapted from a short story by Will Weaver.
The film opens with Lars sitting at the bedside of his dying grandmother in present day Minnesota, and briefly explores his emotions and trepidation at selling his grandparent's farm to housing developers.
Much like "Up", this film will get you all sobby early on, but quickly you will be thoroughly entertaining and uplifted for the duration of the film. After a brief touch on modern times, the film travels back in history, first to the 60s when Lar's grandfather dies and his determined grandmother insists that they bury him in the dead of night out in the middle of the family wheat field. "He stays here," Inge, the grandmother, says firmly.
The film then tracks back even farther, to 1920s Minnesota, a place where The Great War is still fresh on everyone's mind and Inge (Elizabeth Reaser) comes by train, to enter into an arranged marriage with Nowegian immigrant, Olaf Torvic (Tim Guinee).
Although the marriage has been arranged in Norway by Olaf's parents, it is soon learned, to everyone's dismay, that Inge is German.
After Inge nervously chatters in German at the alter of the little Lutheran Church where she has come to marry Olaf, the preacher refuses to marry them, and the sweetly awkward love story between two strangers begins.
When it seems no one in the state of Minnesota will marry Inge and Olaf because it's feared she's a degenerate German spy-- Inge goes to live with stoic and silent Olaf's funny and eccentric neighbor and best friend, Franzen, Who is played by the amazing Alan Cumming. Franzen and his wife are very much in love, and have a house full of children to prove it. But soon Inge is longing to start her own life with Olaf on their own farm, and makes herself quite at home in his beautiful little white farm house, much to the horror and gossip of the community around them.
Slowly though, Inge becomes part of the community and her relationship with Olaf develops at a slow and beautiful pace. The era in which this story is written, and the area in which the story is set, is unique and a treasure to explore. The community is still very rural, settled by many of immigrant backgrounds who are all trying their best to 'be American', but also at the cusp of modernization-- for better or worse.
The beginning of farmer unions is touched on here, as well as the trap of getting mired in depth for the sake of 'improving the farm' that many farmers fell victim to. Olaf says many times "business and farming don't mix" and by the end of the film, you will agree with him.
If you have netflix, Sweet Land is currently available for instant viewing, although I think this is a film that more than earns its way into a permanent place in a movie collection. It is simple, sweeping and beautiful, capturing the American prairie in all its glory and making us all look back a little at the immigrants-- and the love stories-- that came before us.