The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

Probably the most underrated movie of 2013

with 8 comments

promised landIt happens that good movies fall under the radar and you don’t know why. It could be bad luck, it could be bad timing, it could be some mysterious bad karma that works against it. It just wasn’t meant to be.

In the case of Gus van Sant’s Promised Land, it’s tempting to bring up conspiracy ideas. How does it come that it barely has been spoken about at all? Has it even been marketed? And if not, is the only reason that they didn’t expect the audience to like it? Or could it be that someone thought that the political message was a little bit too radical and hard to digest?

I any case it’s a shame. And I’m ashamed that it took me so long to write about this film. I should have brought it up on the agenda way earlier and then perhaps I could have talked someone into watching it in a theatre. Every sold ticket counts. In any case it’s not too late; it’s available on DVD and for rental online, so there’s really no excuse now not to watch it.

It feels as if most movies these days take place in big cities. And as much as I love New York City movies, (which I confessed recently) I think this is a bit weird and a bit of a shame. You rarely get to see the small town rural life that a lot of people actually lead. There are a hundred movies about New York writers for every movie there is about a waitress or car mechanic from a 10 000 inhabitant village in the desert.

Promised Land feels like a fresh breeze in this movie landscape, it’s something different to most movies we see – and yet I would say it works in classic, familiar territory. It’s man versus nature, town versus city and the little man versus the big, nameless corporation, idealism versus pragmatism. Frank Capra comes to mind.

The movie has a few twists and turns and perpetually stupid as I am I didn’t see them coming. I was taken by surprise every time. If you’re somewhat smarter – or don’t get as immersed into movies as I do – you might discover the truth on beforehand. On the other hand I don’t think it matters a lot for the enjoyment of the film. In the end, it’s not just a film about the fight between the people of the village and the big bad cooperation. It’s more nuanced, more complicated than that. Society is changing; people are clustering in the cities, and the countryside is becoming a place where you go for vacation in a cabin, not where you want to live and work and raise you children. Those who are left are struggling and need to find some way to make their living. Do you really have the right to criticize the farmers and put up unrealistic demands that they shouldn’t do anything that can be harmful to the environment, if you are not affected by those demands, if you live in a city with a steady income from somewhere else?

It’s too late to get this film more awards (at least it got a special mention at the Berlin festival in 2013, better than nothing). But it’s not too late to watch it. Do that.

Promised Land (Gus van Sant, US 2012) My rating: 4/5

Written by Jessica

February 11, 2014 at 7:00 am

Posted in Promised Land

8 Responses

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  1. Great post, Jessica. I think yours is the most favorable review I’ve heard of this film so far. I want to see it now.


    February 11, 2014 at 6:01 pm

  2. Interesting write-up Jessica. I had written this one off due to the poor reviews of read bug you’ve sparked my interest. I normally like Van Sant’s films so I’ll give it a go.

    Mark Walker

    February 15, 2014 at 10:29 am

    • I can barely remember reading a review about it. It just… disappeared. I liked it a lot and I bet you’re goint to as well.


      February 17, 2014 at 9:45 pm

  3. […] Promised Land Gus van Sant’s latest movie just disappeared. I wonder why. Could it be about politics? […]

  4. After watching Gasland first it was clear where this movie was going from the start. It has good performances, but I just did not like the fact that Damon’s character acts like it all is new information. He is the one trying to buy the land and should be well aware of all the tactics the company uses. So that made it less believable to me and left me somewhat disappointed by the movie as a whole.


    February 21, 2014 at 5:08 pm

    • Perhaps it was a good thing I hadn’t seen Gasland – or that I’m not quite smart enough to predict where movies are going. It makes them more enjoyable. 🙂


      June 10, 2014 at 9:16 pm

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