Last night our short-story-to-film group met to watch ‘Sweet Land‘, inspired by Will Weaver’s short story, ‘A Gravestone Made of Wheat‘. I had loved the short story – small and perfectly formed in that unique way of the best short stories, with a tight little plot and a beautiful, small cast of characters amazingly well-drawn in such a few (13) short pages. The film was okay too and if that sounds a bit grudging, I’d have to add that in my view, it was a bit blowsy and in places not-very-believable compared with the book. But don’t let that put you off. There were some good performances and gorgeous midwest prairie camera work, and an entirely surprising support role played by Alan Cumming, the Scottish actor.
One of the main features of the story is that Inge, a German woman who has been living in Norway, travels to the prairie for an arranged marriage with Olaf. The action takes place in 1920 and she is met with intense anti-German hostility by the wider community, including the legal systems responsible for her immigration papers, and the church. Happily however she and Olaf hit it off swimmingly and she learns some useful prairie skills including scything and threshing the wheat, and cooking. Olaf can’t get enough of her and at one point, mouth filled with pie, asks, ‘Is this German food?’ She shakes her head and replies, ‘just food.’
It seems that when her nationality had been used to ostracise and vilify her, she didn’t want her nascent domestic skills to be pigeon-holed, but instead appealed to the universal need to eat, for survival as much as for pleasure. We all need the same things, really. And as this scene also played out in the context of Inge and Olaf’s mutual desire and attraction, the ‘just food’ message acquires the warm sauce of seduction. Yum yum.