Movie Review: Land of Mine
Denmark’s best foreign film contender didn’t win an Oscar, but this truth-based drama about young Germans forced to clear beaches blows up war movie cliche by focusing on consequence instead of action
Land of Mine
In Danish and German with English subtitles
Starring: Roland Møller, Louis Hofmann, Joel Basman, Mikkel Boe Følsgaard, Laura Bro
Directed by: Martin Zandvliet
Running time: 1hr 40 mins
MPAA Rating: Restricted
By Katherine Monk
(June 7, 2017) Revenge is a volatile compound. A mixture of hurt and hate combined with action, it’s capable of fuelling age-old feuds, centuries-old animosities and launching dependably tragic wars. It’s undeniably one of the ugliest pieces of the human puzzle as it plays to our smallest, pettiest tendencies: the childish need to get back at those who’ve done us wrong.
But it’s there. Lurking in the darkest parts of our flawed hearts. We even cling to delusions of our own nobility, justifying cruel, unusual and inhuman treatment of others as ‘just deserts’ or in the ‘interest of national security.’
It’s a messy crunch of ethics, but writer-director Martin Zandvliet throws himself into the moral trenches with his Second World War Drama, Land of Mine.
Denmark’s 2016 submission for the best foreign film Oscar, Land of Mine is set at the very end of the European conflict. It’s May, 1945 and the Allies have marched across Axis lines, rounding up surviving German troops and marching them into camps.
In one of the opening scenes, we watch a Danish officer gratuitously kick and punch at a random prisoner. The young German is helpless and unarmed. But we focus on the face of the attacker, rage twisting his face into something monstrous. His eyes are black and vacant, two dark craters on the battlefield of his face. They stare into the emptiness looking for all that is not there. Lost.
It’s a risky way to introduce a leading character, but that’s how we meet Sergeant Rasmussen (Roland Møller), commanding officer to a group of German POWs assigned to clear Danish beaches of German mines. The Nazis buried more than two million land mines along the western coastline, and 45,000 must be removed from one particular beach under Rasmussen’s jurisdiction.
He doesn’t really care if any of them survive, but he does train them. He also tells them they’ll all go home to Germany once the beach is clear. The dramatic structure couldn’t be any clearer, or the stakes any starker, ensuring Zandvliet can spend the rest of his time developing characters we care about as they tiptoe through the explosives.
Louis Hofmann is just one part of this tremendously talented, while understated, ensemble. He plays Schumann, one of the older boys in the bunch, and the only one willing to stand up for his mates and ask for food. The kids are starving, and that’s the problem for Rasmussen: They’re just kids, the last of the German recruits, plucked from their schoolyards and handed rifles. He wants to hate them, hurt them, starve them, but at some point, he begins to seem them as human beings.
His taste for revenge sours. And watching someone move through that kind of transformation — very, very gently, unearthing their own rage and defusing its power— brings the whole purpose of this film to the surface.
This is a war movie about what’s left behind: Buried rage, broken bodies, scarred souls.. Yet, amid the ashes of our noble selves, lie a few embers, stubbornly glowing, growing brighter with every breath of forgiveness.
THE EX-PRESS.CA, June 7, 2017