Anna and I recently watched the movie “Sweet Land.” This is not a movie you’re likely to have heard about, and as far as I know it wasn’t shown in the local Regal. Nonetheless, I would say this is a movie that many people can connect with on several levels.
To begin with, it is a love story–though not a typical one. At least it’s not a typical one for today and that is an important caveat, because, for the time and the place in which the film is set–a largely agrarian immigrant community in the upper mid-west (Minnesota to be exact)–this story is perhaps more typical than people today might expect.
It’s not a typical love story for today because it doesn’t follow the set pattern. There is no chance meeting fraught with possibility and made to bear more meaning than chance ought to. There’s no dating, no drama induced by misunderstanding only to be cleared up just in time for the marriage bells to ring. Indeed, there are no bells. There is no wedding–but there is the story of a strong and loving marriage.
“Sweet Land” is based upon the short story “Gravestone Made of Wheat” by Will Weaver, and while the movie differs from the short story, it still conveys the same sense of place, time and affection. In the movie, Olaf Torvik is a Norwegian farmer whose parents have sent him a bride from the old country. For the modern viewer it is likely to be this status as a “mail order bride” that stands out, or is seen as problematic. In 1920’s Minnesota, with its large immigrant community (as with other immigrant communities) this is not the issue. The community doesn’t bat an eye at the expectation that Inge, the young woman, would marry Olaf nearly as soon as she’s off the train. For them, the problem rests in the fact that Inge is German and it doesn’t help that she doesn’t have the correct immigration papers or that her political affiliation has been incorrectly identified as “socialist.”
In the story of Olaf and Inge and the challenges they face, we catch a glimpse of an era in which the Lutherans in the US were especially sensitive to issues of nationality. Whether it be the admonition “only English in the church,” or the concern to be seen as “American” and not by the nationality of one’s parents or grandparents. It was in such a climate, during and after the first world war that the American flag made it’s first appearance in church sanctuaries as immigrant communities sought to demonstrate where their allegiance lay. Also on display are economic concerns, with Olaf’s recurring statement–proven correct in this instance–that “farming and banking don’t mix.”
In the midst of all the trials brought about by forces beyond their control, “Sweet Land” brings out the moving story of two people’s commitment to one another and the love that grows in their marriage, transforming them into a patriarch and matriarch not only of their family, but also of a community that once rejected them.
I heartily recommend this film, and with a PG rating, it’s a movie that the family can enjoy together, perhaps even inspiring conversations about grandparents, great grandparents and how we came to be who we are today.