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More well-meaning than well-made, writer-director Ali Selim’s Sweet Land is a modestly engaging bit of Americana. The bulk of the film is set just after World War I, when the United States was having one of its periodic upsets about the supposed dangers of foreign contamination. Mail-order bride Inge (an engaging Elizabeth Reaser) arrives at a small-town train station in Minnesota, to be greeted by taciturn potential husband Olaf (Tim Guinee) and his talkative friend Frandsen (a relatively restrained Alan Cumming). Inge has seemingly come not only to the wrong place but also from the wrong place: She’s beautiful, vivacious, artistic, and German, while the locals are dour, fun-hating, and of Norwegian extraction. “She is not one of us,” announces the town’s overbearing pastor, Sorrensen (a colorless John Heard), refusing to conduct the planned instant wedding. Then the town clerk won’t approve Inge’s papers, on the grounds that Germans are prone to prostitution and espionage, and the cold-hearted local banker (Ned Beatty) decides that the newcomer’s eyes are pretty but “devious.” Before long, Inge is being denounced from the pulpit for living (chastely) with Olaf, making coffee that’s too strong, and teaching him to waltz. (“Dancing?” asks Sorrensen witheringly, and you half expect the theme from Footloose to kick in.) The clannish locals’ hostility toward Inge is plausible in theory, but Selim’s script (derived from Will Weaver’s short story) doesn’t allow her a single unpleasing quality. The young woman is as saintly as she is sexy, while her nemesis, Sorrensen, is utterly dislikable (even if he does get a last-act opportunity to do the right thing). The movie also shares a structural problem with Clint Eastwood’s new Flags of Our Fathers: one too many framing stories. The film opens in contemporary times and then flashes back to the 1960s before finally arriving in the second Woodrow Wilson administration. This arrangement is more coherent in the epilogue than the prologue, but it still seems overreaching. Sweet Land is a too-simple tale stuck into an overelaborate schema.

—Mark Jenkins