'The Promised Land' Review

Get your Danish history and a little just desserts

Lovers of historical drama, take note: The Promised Land, playing a single run at Violet Crown in partnership with the Santa Fe International Film Festival, will knock off your gilded hosiery.

At its center, two men present more or less a classic battle for good and evil. Capt. Ludvig von Kahlen (Mads Mikkelsen, the villain from 2006′s Casino Royale) has clawed his way through the ranks of the German army after 25 years, during which he contrived a detailed strategy to become the first successful farmer on Jutland heath with permission from the king. But when Kahlen begins his arduous endeavor, he encounters an arrogant nobleman who insists the land belongs to the De Schinkel family by rights.

The battle ensues: Writer/director Nikolaj Arcel characterizes Frederik De Schinkel (Simon Bennebjerg, The Pact) with absurdly large wine glasses, silken trousers, dinners with wobbly gelatin towers as dessert and all the opulent and demeaning events that go with it. Plus, he’s a rapist and a sadist.

Kahlen, on the other hand, stays up all night with a lantern digging around in the heath to find the perfect spot to plant the miracle crop of the 1700s. He’s rigid, meticulous, obstinate and determined—and also compassionate and ruthless in turns. And as the battle with De Schinkel comes to a head, he ultimately realizes success that comes with isolation isn’t worth its weight in potatoes.

Mikkelsen, a Danish powerhouse starring in a Danish film, is fierce; Bennebjerg is hateable; but don’t overlook the female protagonists of the narrative: the two women, Kahlen’s worker-turned-lover Ann Barbara (Amanda Collin) and De Schinkel’s cousin and would-be finance Edel (Kristine Kujath Thorp), who get the typical 18th-century treatment from both Kahlen and De Schinkel, the latter to a much worse degree. This fim certainly would not pass the Bechdel Test.

Arcel composes a devastating film, and at times it’s surprisingly graphic, with no shortage of torture and throat slitting. But it’s also a visual feast: The wrinkles in the folding fabric of the working women’s dresses and the muted tones of the fields and sky are reminiscent of classic, light-stroked popular oil painting that coincides with the rough time period of the film.


+Historic drama at its finest

-So much screentime with only men’s faces

The Promised Land

Directed by Arcel

With Mikkelsen, Bennebjerg and CollinViolet Crown, R, subtitled, 127 min

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