Endless fields of wheat, creaking houses and barns set against big sky vistas and gorgeous auroras: the lugubrious Midwest circa WWI is the unmistakable setting of Sweet Land’s refreshingly earnest but wholly uninspiring immigrant and romantic drama. Director Ali Selim displays a terrific eye for period authenticity on a relatively low budget, but undermines it with one too many crane shots and scenes in which characters stare longingly from windows. Said longing stems from the taboo relationship between Inge (Elizabeth Reaser), a German fresh off the boat, or train, and Olaf (Tim Guinee), a shy Norwegian farmer. The local anti-German sentiment from the authorities and the church prevents their legal union, but the two persevere through hardship and unconsummated desire.
Sweet Land thus takes on the big themes — love, land, heritage, what it means to be American — while only committing itself to fuzzy niceties for statements or insights. It’s nice to look at, though (despite an overbearing soundtrack), and the cast (aided by Alan Cumming) performs lovingly and enthusiastically. One just asks for more than pretty Hallmark pictures. Opens October 18