Land of Mine, a Danish/German co-production from writer/director Martin Zandvliet, was a Best Foreign Language Film nominee at the Academy Awards and it’s easy to see why.
This is one of the year’s best cinema releases thus far. A calmly handled but extremely tense and powerfully moving World War II drama drawn from facts that Denmark, it seems, is only now willing to explore onscreen.
In May 1945 after the surrender of Germany we meet Danish sergeant Carl Leopold Rasmussen (Roland Møller), who is assigned to oversee a group of young German POWs as they are sent to the West Coast to defuse some of the 2.2 million land mines hidden in the beaches. Rasmussen begins his job with anger and violence, and the plan is that he will spend three months with 10 or so soldiers as they (but not him) after the briefest of training) set out to defuse some 45000 mines on one stretch of beach (note that the Danish title was Under Sandet – ‘under the sand’).
The area should supposedly be clear in three months, and the build-up to the first explosion is seriously nerve-wracking, and while you can’t help but feel relief when one finally goes off, you’ll also feel ashamed.
The lads’ ostensible leader is Sebastian (Louis Hofmann), but Rasmussen is soon feeling sorry for all of them, from hopeful Wilhelm (Leon Seidel) to despondent Ludwig (Oskar Bökelmann) to twins Ernst and Werner (Emil and Oskar Belton, who both look about 12), which makes sending them out every day to potential doom increasingly difficult.
Beautiful seaside cinematography from Camilla Hjelm (which almost makes you forget how dangerous the beach truly is) complements strong playing from the whole cast and impressive but restrained direction from Zandvliet. This film is built upon Møller’s complex performance as a man who grows to realise that he’s part of what was eventually known as the worst war crimes ever conducted by the Danish state.
And yes, some might feel glad that this all happened so far away and so long ago, but there are suggestions here that Zandvliet is trying to subtly comment upon contemporary concerns as well. Don’t forget the opening scene where Rasmussen beats a bunch of prisoners and screams, “Get out of my country!”
Rated MA. Land of Mine is in cinemas now.