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Sweet Land


Stars: Elizabeth Reaser, Tim Guinee, Alan Cumming, John Heard, Alex Kingston, Ned Beatty, Lois Smith

Director: Ali Selim

A little long and slow, but fascinating throughout, this neglected gem (made three years ago) centres on Inge, a mail order bride (bewitchingly played by Reaser), who arrives in the wide open spaces of Minnesota around 1920, clutching a suitcase and a portable gramophone, as the wife-to-be of Norwegian farmer Olaf (Guinee) who has somehow missed the fact that she is German and likely to encounter hostility among the God-fearing locals so soon after an enervating world war.

Without the required papers, or the cooperation of the local minister (Heard, with his first real role in ages), Inge cannot become Olaf's wife, and is forced to take lodgings at the farm of his impecunious neighbours (Cumming, Kingston - both with convincing American accents) and share a room with their nine children.

Unable to bear the noisy, smelly nights that result, Inge moves in with Olaf (he sleeps in the barn) and is soon shunned by the locals, while Olaf's friends have problems of their own, with their farm about to be repossessed by Ned Beatty's grasping banker.

The relationship between Inge and Olaf - the film begins with her death as a very old woman - is the core of the film and charmingly handled by the director. Although Olaf is more awkward than his putative bride (who initially speaks no English), she teaches him to dance and introduces him to proper cooking, before they cut the harvest together, laboriously done with scythes.

The minister's volte-face at the end seems a little abrupt, and a money-rescuing scene is straight out of It's a Wonderful Life, but the film's heart is good and true and its central relationship is always believable, subtly underlined by appropriate music on violin, harmonica and guitar.

David Quinlan

USA 2005. UK Distributor: Revolution Films. Technicolor.
111 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: PG.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 03 Sep 2008