Actor Gil Bellows fits neatly into the first category (and my kidney remains mercifully un-bruised this week). Bellows is genuinely proud of the film he has Co-Produced, and led from its infancy to the screen. The film is called Sweet Land, and Bellows wears a smile on his face as he sees it through, helping it to be seen by appreciative (and growing) audiences.
Sweet Land is the tale of a German immigrant named Inge, whose before, during and after picture brings us through three timelines of life, three different phases of morality and three different generations of family. Framed by the plight of Inge's surviving grandson, this is a slow-paced and beautiful love story, reminiscent of The Bridges of Madison County, with maybe just a pinch of a peppering of Big Fish sprinkled in.
In the early 1920's Inge (played in youth by Elizabeth Reaser and in age by Lois Smith) comes to a pre-Jesse Ventura Minnesota, a mail-order bride who speaks less English than E.T., but is a whole lot prettier! Her shy husband-to-be, Olaf (excellently portrayed by Tim Guinee, of the tragically under-watched television show Strange World), is bound by social mores and old world tradition, but is immediately in love with the incredibly beautiful Inge. There's just one problem... but it's a big one. You see, the United States (of which Minnesota, under Ventura or not, is one) had just gotten out of a bit of a skirmish/ scuffle with Deutschland known as WORLD WAR I! Naturally small town Minnesota needs a German added to its census like I need a Bruno Mattei film festival.
Although best buddy Alvin Frandsen (Alan Cumming, who also produced) and his wife "Brownie" (Alex Kingston, whose mini-sooooooooda accent is as flawless as Cumming's) are pulling for these two foreign kids, they're just about the only ones. Ned Beatty's banker Harmo has a vault load of contempt for our heroes and Minister Sorrensen (John Heard) manages to find so many things wrong with this couple (and "Germaness" in general) that he not only refuses to marry them but offers a public ostracism, usually warranted only for local liberals. They want to get married, but aren't allowed. Therefore, they're "living in sin"! In short, thrashed if you do, thrashed if you don't.
What follows is a remarkably chaste love story between two real people guided by their moral propriety and the pressures of their community. What is so striking about this part of the story is that while "those without sin" are casting more stones than Sisyphus, the targets of their vitriol are the truly good people, much more upstanding and kind than the very moral pillars of town. Where the story goes is worth the wait, especially as the real feel of how these two strangers become more and more tied to each other and the land is brought forth quietly and sweetly.
However, it wouldn't have been possible without these two excellent leads. In a cast that features such heavy hitting character actors (watch the background, there are a lot of faces you'll recognize, from Paul Sands to Tom Gilroy), it's wonderful to see both Reaser and Guinee stand out. Tim Guinee's performance is career igniting (or should be). His Norwegian accent is perfect, when employed, however Guinee is at his best in the silent moments with nothing but his eyes to do the acting for him. Speaking of eyes, you need to see the peepers on Elizabeth Reaser! They're as beautiful as the rest of her is. Luckily, she can act too. With possibly the smallest amount of English dialogue of any actor here, she relies on her acting skills to make this part work, especially as there are no subtitles in any part of this film. Bravo.
This isn't your typical Hollywood movie, or your typical love story either. Bellows knows this, as does Writer/ Director Ali Selim, as do the no less than eleven producers who believed in this film enough to make it all happen. You will find no chases, explosions or wild sex scenes in this one. You also will be hard pressed to detect one of those overwhelming musical scores that treats the audience like a gaggle of morons. The music here, by Tin Hat Trio's Mark Orton, compliments the events of the film in all three timelines, never overtaking the film, never hurling orchestra hits at us to remind us to laugh, cry or jump.
It's true that this is a slow moving film, but it goes at the exact pace that is required for this heart-felt story. It's also true that there are many moments that feel as if they are merely marked time. However, wait for it, and you will find a rewarding whole. You don't have to be shocked by a movie to be satisfied by it. All in all, this is a very fine adaptation of author Will Weaver's A Gravestone Made of Wheat.
This one is for intelligent and patient people who can appreciate story and acting over formula. If you can appreciate a more "European" theme in a deeply American story, Sweet Land is worth the viewing. Four and One Half Stars out of Five for Sweet Land. It's time for me to get moving, folks. After hearing Alan Cumming's "Whistle" joke in Sweet Land, I realize I no longer hold the market on silly puns. I'm either going to have to get a few layers goofier, or a few stories more obscure. Until I've decided which, I'll see you in the next reel... the next Corny, Wheaty reel!
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I wanted to follow him up those stairs.
and I don't give a shit what that old Prude said.