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  • Writer's pictureJamie

The Promised Land - Review

A two hour Danish Western about potato farming starring Mads Mikkelson wasn’t a film that I thought would grip me based on the description, and yet here I am, gripped. The Promised Land is a brutal film following a military captain attempting to tame the Danish Heath by finding fertile soil and building a home. He faces challenges and obstacles in the form of local whiny lord, Frederik De Schinkel (Simon Bennebjerg). This rivalry, along with a story redefining family, create an expansive and emotionally engaging plot, coupled with harsh violence and all the tender loving care that a potato deserves. 

Ludvig Kahlen (Mads Mikkelsen) is a captain in the King’s guard, tasked with heading out to the notorious infertile and unforgiving Heath to set up a base, grow some vegetables and prepare for settlers. For all this, he will get to live there and be given a new title. We see him set off with a horse and a dream, testing soil throughout the barren land. Eventually he stumbles on some land that will work. Soon after this discovery, he gets to work on planting and building his home. Frederik De Schinkel gets word of this new development, inviting Kahlen over to discuss his plans. De Schinkel feels as though he owns The Heath and should be the only one allowed to build on it. Kahlen’s dismissive response to De Schinkel ignites a feud with Kahlen over this, promising to make his life hell while he tries to take back the land he feels that he is owed. 

During the feud, Kahlan connects with De Schinkel’s cousin who he would like to make his wife. This adds another tension point for the men. With this rivalry in full effect, Kahlan also has the issue of harsh conditions and lack of support to contend with, turning to the nomads of the Heath, living by stealing. He takes them in to work and feed, along with two runaway farmers. 

Through various inciting events, the conditions and relationships change, giving Kahlan a new family to live with, learning to care for those around him in ways he’s not done before. 

This film surprised me with how densely packed it is. It spans years of this story and follows the characters through ups and downs. The western style storytelling is coupled with emotionally intelligent dialogue and characters that you want to feel for or that you want to hate. The story, setting and characters all tie into a bow that is action packed without daring stunts needed. There are a few scenes that have some intense violence in them, not holding back, really sinking you into the grittiness of the world and darkness of the capabilities of desperation. Characters like De Schinkel showcase coldness in such a wimpy, whiny way that gives him that pathetic power that so many good villains have shown before. 

Kahlan’s heart is always in the right place and his kindness is seen multiple ways. He has the classic western ruthlessness but his heart wins overall, making him so much easier to connect to and route for. 

I do think a lot of this heart comes from the portal of Kahlan by Mads Mikkelson. He disappears into the role, with enough subtlety to not feel overly dramatised or like a caricature of western protagonists. Even though De Schinkel is written and played very pathetically by Simon Bennebjerg, his approach to the character has enough genuine coldness that he never veers into the silly villain category. I believed his batshit delusion motivation for the whole film, knowing why he thinks he’s in the right while seeing him as who he really was meant to be. 

The heart of the film is firmly with Anmai Mus (Melina Hagberg), who plays a child from the outlaws tribe. Her dark skin causes controversy with settlers and passers by, who reject her and claim that she brings back luck. Hagberg does such a good job in bringing an emotional tie to the film, giving you a lot to care about through other characters. 

The camera work in the film is broad and grand, spanning such a wide landscape or a grand manor with ease. It shows the land in its bare nature and the mansions in their safe and plentiful resources. This duality is also matched with the minimal house that Kahlan lives in, with only natural light spilling in through the small windows. The dimly lit house feels cold and unwelcoming at first but with the story and connections made in the space, there is a strange sense of homeliness embedded in the interior. 

This coupled with the fitting soundtrack help to create the environment and set us firmly in the time the film is set. 

Technically, the film is gritty and affecting, with harsh visuals and sounds throughout, wrapping it up in a package that balances nicely against the delicate approach to character development. 

The Promised Land comes out of nowhere to be high up on my list for this year. As a stand alone story, the epic scale and intimate relationships deliver a full meal that left me excited. Even when at times the film feels as though its going astray from the narrative, it manages to pull itself back to a satisfying conclusion for all characters, leaving you with the story you look back on and understand. I appreciated the effort this film goes to be affecting, making you feel the extremities while watching. I know there is no shortage of tales of land ownership but I think this one separates itself with its unique setting and focus on characters enough to not blend in. 


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