I’ve noticed a pattern as I watch movies lately, especially since I’ve been focusing mostly on indie and foreign films. I almost always start with a positive attitude, then most of the time a few minutes into it I realize it’s a chore to watch since such films tend to require considerably more effort and concentration from the viewer than mainstream Hollywood fare. From maybe that five minute mark to, say, the twenty minute mark I’m fighting boredom and feeling ambivalent about whether I should have chosen this as one of my movies to watch, then invariably I adjust to the different style of viewing required and I get drawn in to at least some extent. Sometimes I end up really liking the film and sometimes it’s just OK, but rarely if ever does it remain a struggle to get through watching it.
Sweet Mud is the story of a year or so of life on an Israeli kibbutz. When it seemed to be just kind of showing vignettes from the lives of various people in the kibbutz it was only minimally holding my interest. But when it eventually settled in and became more a story about a specific mother and son and more of a plot developed, it picked up in intensity and I cared more what was going on.
I believe—and I’m really not that knowledgeable about it—that when the kibbutzim started they were considerably more idealistic and more willing to deviate from the conventional. For example, children were raised collectively. And I think the more extreme stuff like that is regarded as having been mostly a failure, as parents insisted on bonding with and favoring their biological child over others. So biological instinct overrode the social experiment.
If that’s the case, then this movie takes place later, when there are only traces remaining of such practices. The children sleep in a separate building with each other, but other than that it appears the kids interact with their parents and family the rest of the day the same way any kids would.
It would seem the kibbutz environment is ripe for examination, as it can differ so much from the lifestyle of most viewers. But for most of the movie I felt like they weren’t doing too much with that. That is, good and bad things happen, but it didn’t feel, to me, that they were presented as stemming from the kibbutz environment in such a way as to constitute an endorsement or a condemnation of it.
But then at the end, one of the main characters vehemently denounces the kibbutz and attributes a lot of negative consequences to it, and even charges that it has warped its members into evil people.
So either the film is indeed intended to expose and condemn the kibbutz system, or—since the attack is put in the mouth of a mentally unbalanced character—it at least wants to raise such issues for question in the viewer’s mind.
Sweet Mud never did hold my interest at a high level, so I’d put it in the category mentioned above of films that early on I fear are going to be boring, and that then end up better but just OK. There were some effective moments, and I appreciated watching the way the relationship developed to where the son was trying to save the mother, but it didn’t connect with me in a very deep way.