LAND OF MINE

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Martin Pieter Zandvliet

Stars: Roland Moeller, Louis Hofmann, Oskar Belton, Emil Belton, Mikkel Boe Folsgaard, Oskar Bokelmann, Leon Seidel, Karl Alexander Seidel, August Carter, Maximilian Beck, Tim Bulow.

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Land Of Mine is a powerful, intense and involving drama set in Denmark in 1945, immediately after the end of WWII. And as unlikely as it seems, it is based on a little known true story from the annals of history.

After the war, some 2.2 million landmines littered Denmark’s beaches, planted there by the Nazis who feared that the Allied D-Day invasion would happen on the Danish coastline. Land Of Mine focuses on one group of scared and frightened German teens, captured by the Allies, who are forced to locate and defuse some 45,000 mines. It is dangerous work as they could explode at any time. The boys were told that they would be repatriated to Germany after they had finished their work. But they had no experience in dismantling explosives.

Slowly the boys begin to bond over their shared danger, and a few hijinks at the end of every day they survive. They also discuss what they will do when they get back home, which adds a sense of hopefulness and optimism that keeps them going through the long days and arduous work. This form of forced labour and dangerous work had been outlawed by the Geneva Convention, but the Danes wanted revenge and to punish their former enemy. An end title card informs us that half of those conscripted for this dangerous duty were either killed or maimed.

They youths are supervised by the embittered Danish sergeant Carl Rasmussen (played by Roland Moller, from the tense drama A Hijacking, etc), a tough taskmaster whose feelings towards his charges slowly changes. At first he is justifiably angry at his former enemies, and tries to instil in them a sense of discipline and fear. But slowly he reluctantly begins to feel responsible for the boys and develops a grudging admiration for their courage.

Land Of Mine is the third feature film for former theatre director Martin Pieter Zandvliet. Zandvliet is also a former editor who knows how to expertly ratchet up the tension and he develops a strong sense of suspense. The film was Denmark’s official submission into the Best Foreign Language category at this year’s Oscars.

The film has been superbly shot on authentic locations by cinematographer Camilla Hjelm Knudsen, who captures some haunting images. Land Of Mine is a harrowing and emotionally draining drama as we come to genuinely feel for the fate of the boys, who are terrified and just want to go home. The characters are well drawn, and the largely unknown ensemble youthful cast deliver strong performances, capturing the fears, innocence and insecurities of the boys. A standout amongst the young cast is Louis Hofmann, who leaves a strong impression as Sebastian. Twins Oskar and Emil Belton also bring an emotional heft to the material. Moeller’s performance grounds the film.

This is a harrowingly effective character study depicting the effects war has on individuals as well as the collective psyche of a nation and the survivors’ strong desire for revenge. The title serves up a clever pun that references not only the beach littered with deadly mines, but also a strong sense of nationalism and pride. Land Of Mine is powerful war movie that delivers a potent anti-war message and is a deeply moving and affecting drama. It ranks up there with The Hurt Locker.

A startling and sobering footnote reminds us that there are still thousands of unexploded mines on the Danish coastline. There were so many mines that, apparently, the Danish government was unable to declare beaches safe until 2012, nearly seventy years after the war ended.

★★★★

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