Sunday, July 15, 2007

Sweetness and Grace

Sweet Land, a love story set in 1920-something Minnesota, is a fascinating bit of historical fiction that is told simply, but manages to convey powerful feelings in its subtle way. It's not a sentimental love story, but it is a touching one.

Inge arrives from Germany, speaking no English, to marry Olaf, a bachelor farmer* from the middle-of-nowhere, whom she has never met. Fortunately, Olaf does speak German, but he still has no idea what he's in for: when Olaf takes Inge straight to the church to get married, the small town's minister has too many objections to marry them, most of them bureaucratic reasons, at first. As the story unfolds, however, it becomes obvious that there are widespread prejudices against foreigners, especially Germans (the US was at war with Germany at the time), and the social mores of Olaf's culture required that he and Inge keep a very great distance from each other until they were officially married. This was a very hard requirement in the circumstances, and lead to awkwardness and frustration for them both.

The following clip is from the beginning of the movie, when Inge is (at first) sent to stay with Olaf's close friend, Frandsen and his wife, Brownie. And their nine children. A lot of it is in German, and not subtitled, because it is obvious what the problem is--

As you can see, Olaf and Inge have a long way to go yet in getting to know each other, but before the story has ended, they will not only have won each other's hearts, but also the understanding and admiration of their neighbors, including the minister. And that's important; to be invited back to church is to be embraced by the community. Olaf and Inge are not permitted to legally marry, but eventually decide that they are married in their hearts.

And it's not done in a corny manner, I promise you! There is no crying in this movie, just a lot of tough, hardworking people who try to look out for each other during hard times. I thought this was a wonderful movie.

Main Cast:
Ali Selim, director
Elizabeth Reaser ... Inge
Tim Guinee ... Olaf Torvik
Alan Cumming ... Frandsen
John Heard ... Minister Sorrensen
Alex Kingston ... Brownie
Ned Beatty ... Harmo
Lois Smith ... Old Inge

Winner of the Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature at the 2005 Hamptons International Film Festival
Based on Will Weaver’s short story A Gravestone Made of Wheat and shot on location in Southern Minnesota. The scenery is lovely.

*I couldn't help giggling a little, as I typed that, because of the way Garrison Keillor pokes his good-natured fun of Norwegian bachelor farmers: Buttermilk biscuits, made by Norwegian bachelor farmers, so you know they're 100 percent pure, shy people the courage to get up and do what needs to be done...that sounds so much like Olaf!


I was delighted to find a collection of short stories by Susanna Clarke, the author of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, which has been aptly described as a Harry Potter-fix for adults.

The Ladies of Grace Adieu is the title of the first story, which could have been included in the above tome, if Clarke had decided to imitate Victor Hugo. I'm glad she stayed focused and did not do that, because I enjoyed this stand-alone story much more by itself, and look forward to reading all of them. It's a small book, 235 pages, about a fourth of the size of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. They will all be about magic, faeries, and such.

I am still reading installments of A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson and All Aunt Hagar's Children (stories) by Edward P. Jones. I must say, it's rare for me to be having fun with so many books at one time. I also find that collections of short stories usually get old, but I don't think these two will.


TLP said...

You have a gift, I think, for reviewing both books and movies.

Doug said...

I agree, TLP.

I like when you review movies. My Netflix envelopes gather less dust than the books I buy on your recommendation.

Minka said...


except "ja" and "nein" there was little German in that clip! Only Dutch, I think...
But that is a book I will have to read, a) because I am German and b)Alan Cumming

Minka said...

also: almost done with harry Potter...some nice surprises! ;)

Doug said...

Sweet Land is coming in today's mail or Monday's. Woo hoo!

actonbell said...

Thanks, Mom:)
Monika, that's interesting. It reminds me of how my friend Chol used to laugh at the Korean on M*A*S*H. And thanks for the HP tip.

Cool, Doug--I hope you like it!

Doug said...

Very good. I'd forgotten how much I like John Heard. Actually, I'd forgotten he existed.