Sunday, December 28, 2008

Sweet Land

Ali Selim screened Sweet Land in Northfield, Minnesota during my senior year of college. It is a film about Minnesota and was filmed in Minnesota and we were granted the golden tickets to see this film for the first time. It may not have been the most unbiased of audiences, as this film struck a cord in each of us for that very reason. It was close to us.

I watched it again this weekend in the car on our way home from Grandma Butler's home in Minden, Nebraska. Its a beautiful film. And despite my grandiose New York gal proclamations, it is the film closest to my history, the one about my people. Its a film about the prairie.

Inge comes to Minnesota as a mail order bride. Yikes. It was completely common in the days of the New West, despite its curious connotations. Men settled the west but missed companionship. So they sent away for a bride from the east coast, from Canada, and from Europe.

Inge came from Germany, an obvious slip, we soon learn. Germans weren't welcome due to the looming war, and Inge was assumed to be Norwegian, the preferred race. (Um Ya Ya.) She didn't speak English and Selim left out the subtitles, which I loved. The wedding scene is painful, as she rattles off excited German to a horrified congregation. Its her stubbornness that prevails
in the end, demanding her place in Olaf's house as promised.

The love story is nothing of the sort. Inge and Olaf aren't in love and don't try to be. But they fall into a sort of comfort and respect which is more than enough to sustain a lifetime of contentment. It was the story of so many. Which is kind of the point. This is one story, but everyone has something to tell. It wasn't epic nor particularly exciting. It was quiet and hard and good. They did love each other in the end, undoubtedly.

The best scene is the pie scene. Am I right? So good Emily and I pulled out my famous apple pie with gingersnap crumble from the backseat during our watching and ate it with our fingers, you can't blame us. Alex Kingston and Elizabeth Reaser make it look so very rightfully indulgent. That's some smart film making, Selim. Barely a word exchanged and so much understood.

As I drove through the flatness of Nebraska I again noticed the big skies and obvious beauty. If you ever have the chance to drive the highways toward Minden, do so. Its lovely. There isn't a billboard in sight, and the towns don't even have gas stations. Its hours of fields laced with a few streams and a few farmhouses. The trees give both away, as Nebraska is solid prairie. Only corn fields, I was often reminded of as a child with a small bladder and stubborn soda habit.

My parents lived in Michigan for a few years when they first were married and often talk about what it was like to come back to Nebraska after a five year absence. The skies, my dad always said. They are so much bigger here. Well, if Michigan brought out that shining difference, imagine what they look like coming home from New York City. The blue is breathtakingly large and overwhelmingly surrounding.

Sweet Land
took advantage of the skies (though in Minnesota, not Nebraska, I know) with lovingly framed farmhouses, fields, skies, and farmers. The film stills could easily be turned into Rothko's or Mondrian's. Its that kind of separation, that kind of distinction. Parallel lines and solid colors. Few have noticed this beauty, and I'm so glad that Selim is one of them.

Sweet Land
is a quiet film that didn't ask for glory or recognition. In fact, I'm unsure of how big its release was and how well known it has become. It took Selim fourteen years to make and at the time of the screening he wasn't sure that it would even end up in theaters. He made it because he wanted to tell this story, not even his own. In my circle, Sweet Land is spoken of with true appreciation and absolute heart. And I know that Willa Cather would be beaming.

1 comment:

La said...

Thank you for writing about Sweetland. Love it. I tried to think about your description of the beautiful plains of Nebraska as I drove across the entire state to get to Colorado a few days ago. It helped a little.