Day 1: Sweet Land (2005)

So, today was my first day if the Netflix challenge. Welcome back, me!


I woke up today with the intention of watching disc 1 of the Life in Cold Blood series—the only DVD I currently have at home from Netflix. Usually, I am all about watching a butt-kicking documentary, and one about reptiles seemed like it would be right up my alley. However, today I felt like watching a movie.


Loading up my queue page from Netflix, I gazed longingly at Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, but it is not expected to arrive until tomorrow. Doh. I switched over to my watch instantly queue. According to Netflix, I currently have 204 films available in this queue. I scrolled through the page a couple of times, trying to narrow my choices to a few films. A couple of documentaries almost made their way to my watch instantly player today, but the film that finally won out was the indie film, Sweet Land.


Three years ago, I had the DVD of Sweet Land from Netflix at home. It sat around the house, unwatched, for several weeks. Ultimately, I decided to send it back. However, my mom watched it and extolled praise upon praise about the film. Reluctantly, I put it back in my queue, and it lived towards the bottom for several years.

Every so often, my mom would ask if I had seen it yet. I hadn’t. I really meant to though. After a year or so, I even moved it into the top ten of my queue. However, new movies would catch my eye, and poor Sweet Land remained lost in the shuffle. Until today.


Sweet Land, directed by Ali Selim, was released in 2005 and stars Elizabeth Reaser, Tim Guinee, and Alan Cumming. The aptly titled film is a sweet tale about Olaf and his mail-order bride, Inge. Olaf is from circa 1920, rural Minnesota (read: heavily Scandinavian community). Inge is German and speaks very little English. She is faced with anti-German sentiment and has to deal with the prejudices of the local community as well as the language barrier.


The movie has double bookends– one when Olaf dies, and the second when Inge dies (several years later). Usually, I would be deterred by these two plot devices, but somehow it works for the story. However, during the earlier bookend, we are lead into the story of how “grandma” and “grandpa” met. It’s a bit cliché (Really? The story is only told at his funeral to his family?), but I will let it slide this once. 🙂


Eventually, I found myself caught up in a love story—not just between two people, but between the farmers and the land. Now, before you city-folk become all weirded out by this, I have to say that to farmers, the land is more than just a place to live. It is a place to work and often a source of their identity. In fact, in Olaf’s eulogy, the preacher remarks that Olaf created “civilization out of the wilderness” when he homesteaded his land.


Although some may think not much happens in the film and the pace is a bit slow, I would argue that quite a bit does happen– it is just more subtle than some of the other films we see these days. Also, the slower pace gives the audience time to appreciate the performances, the story, and the landscape.


Overall, I have to say I really enjoyed this film. Alan Cumming gives an excellent performance as a quirky friend. His hair, however, seems a bit out of place; like it was cut by Edward Scissorhands. Clearly this is not the case as Edward Scissorhands wasn’t “born” until the 1950s (In theory, he could have time traveled to perform said haircut as long as he was careful not to disrupt the time-space continuum, but that’s probably a whole other story).


Also, as an interesting side note, both of the actresses who play Inge in this film later go on to have roles in two major vampire sagas (Twilight for the “Young Inge” and True Blood for “Old Inge”).


I would highly recommend this film. Perhaps it is a bit of homesickness on my part as I am from the Midwest, but it truly is a wonderful story. The first line of text in the movie says it all: “Let us hope that we are all preceded in this world by a love story.”


Score: A

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