Ali Selim is a gifted artist and one that surely will continue to create magical films such as his masterpiece SWEET LAND in the coming years. Selim wrote the screenplay based on Will Weaver's perfect little short story 'A Gravestone Made of Wheat', found the perfect setting for his tale of the trials of immigrants entering America searching for the American Dream in the spacious grandeur of Minnesota, and selected a cast to bring life to his story that simply could not be better. This film DESERVED to be considered among the best at the time of awards.
Though the time of the story is 1920, the film opens much later in slow motion, only soft music comes from the soundtrack, yet the actors are mouthing words that make us realize we are witnessing the passing of someone important. When the characters begin to speak, the story of remembering what love and trials and experiences years ago were like, transporting us to a station house where we meet Inge (Elizabeth Reaser), a Norwegian/German girl who has come to America to marry a man she has never met, a man who will provide her with home, marriage, and a chance to start afresh. Her 'intended' is Olaf (Tim Guinee) who is shy and unsure of how to make Inge a part of his life: Inge's German background makes her suspect to the townsfolk who fear the course of Germany's power in WW I. Inge speaks no English but has been learning through a common phrase book. Olaf's friend Frandsen (a brilliant role for Alan Cumming), married to Brownie (Alex Kingston) with at least eight children already, helps Inge connect with Olaf. The intended marriage cannot take place with the minister (John Heard) because Inge can't speak English and because she is German... And there begins the trial that places Inge and Olaf in a home unmarried and fending for themselves.
Through extraordinary acts of love bestowed upon Frandsen and Brownie (threatened with eviction from their farm) Inge and Olaf gain the respect of the townspeople and gradually are appreciated for the strong couple they are. They are married, and have children, and the story proceeds to the point where it started, where the aged Inge (now played with humility, grace and style by Lois Williams) carries on the integrity of the departed Olaf and brings closure to her family's disparities through her bonding to her grandson Lars (Patrick Heusinger and later Stephen Pelinski). Both Inge and Olaf wished to be buried in the soil of their land that raised the wheat that gave them material and spiritual sustenance. And it is done.
There are numerous fine cameo roles portrayed by Ned Beatty, Paul Sand, Jodie Markell, Sage Kermes, Kirsten Frantzich, Stephen Yoakam, and Karen Landry. But the equal 'stars' of this breathtaking (and heart-taking) film are cinematographer David Tumblety and musical scoring by Thomas Lieberman and Mark Orton. The end credits are screen on the horizon of the farm with the young Inge and Olaf dancing, a touch that places Ali Selim in the ranks with the finest of filmmakers of the day. This is a brilliant, must-see film. Grady Harp, February 07