After a month of lackluster offerings, it’ll finally be a busy week in the DVD rental aisles. But while time-worthy mainstream offerings dominate front window displays—David Fincher’s brilliantly shot, if slightly long, Zodiac; South Korea’s delightfully absurd monster flick, The Host; and the second season of Showtime’s smart suburban pot series, “Weeds,” are all available as of July 24—there’s one less-publicized new release especially deserving of your late fees.
Sweet Land is a patiently paced and expertly executed love story. It’s similar to Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation, following a sweet German mail-order bride as she finds her way in a rural Minnesota community at the end of World War I. The film is the first by director Ali Selim, a Minnesota native who demonstrates a subtle touch with the endearing, awkward and human details of romantic courtship, just as Coppola did in her acclaimed 1998 film.
The cinematography is stunning, and the storytelling pitch perfect, but a lot of the credit for this film’s appeal belongs to the dark eyes and angelic features of Elizabeth Reaser (The Family Stone) in the lead role. She’s disarmingly expressive, which is helpful, considering her character’s English is initially limited to the phrase, “I could eat a horse.” And Reaser’s funny, too, pulling off a neat flirtatious come-on to her painfully shy husband-to-be. (It being just after the war, the local priest postpones their arranged marriage until the bride proves herself trustworthy.)
This is everything independent filmmaking should be: a shoestring operation (shot in just 24 days) turns a delicate script (adapted from Will Weaver’s short story) into a genuine work of art. It’s rich and vividly descriptive—the thick black mud of Midwestern farms is practically caked on the screen—without being agonizingly slow or self-indulgent. In a summer of largely soulless blockbusters at the theater and uninspiring rentals, Sweet Land provides welcome sustenance. Especially for someone so hungry for a good film they could eat a horse.