Land of Mine: Treading carefully in post-war story

March 31, 2017

Land of Mine (MA)

Rating: 3.5 / 5



It’s 1945 and Germany has finally conceded defeat. The Danes, who suffered under Nazi occupation for five years, are elated, but elation brings with it darker desires. 

While camping out in Denmark and plotting their next move during the war, Nazi troops also planted more than 1.5 million landmines along the country’s coastline. Naturally the Danes now want them removed, and what better way to do this than to employ the hated German POWs (prisoners of war) to do the job?

But these aren’t your usual rank-and-file soldiers. Many of the 2,000 POWs are teenagers or boys barely out of their teens caught up in a man’s war. Few had formal training or much experience in war, and history tells us that nearly half died or sustained debilitating injuries. 

Assigned to diffuse and remove 45,000 mines along the Danish west coast, Sergeant Carl Rasmussen (Roland Møller) receives a motley group of 14 teenage POWs. 

Rasmussen seems a typical product of war. The film opens with a scene that leaves us in little doubt that he suffered under German occupation and now relishes the opportunity to unleash his revenge.

“This is my land. Mine,” he screams at a line of POWs being marched along the road, almost beating one of them to death after spying the Danish flag tucked up under his arm.  

But even Rasmussen is visibly moved by the youthful faces filed before him. In a moment of empathy, he tells the group that when the task is accomplished all survivors will be free to return to Germany.

Danish writer and director Martin Zandvliet bravely delves into one of Denmark’s most contentious historical events. But Zandvliet isn’t interested in providing a simple history lesson. By quickly establishing characters and fleshing out relationships, the director zones in on human interaction post-war, where the demarcation points are no longer so visible. 

As the young strangers slowly shed their anonymity and we get to know them by name and character—the tough-talking Helmut Morbach (Joel Basman), the sensitive Sebastian Schumann (Louis Hofmann), and the gamine-like identical twins Ernst and Werner Lessner (Oskar and Emil Belton)—like Rasmussen, we are drawn into their lives.

While we’re never allowed to forget that they were each also part of Hitler’s heinous killing machine, cinematographer Camilla Hjelm Knudsen’s keen camera follows those soaring unguarded moments as the boys chase each other up and down the sand dunes and talk excitedly of seeing their mothers again. 

It’s this discordancy that grabs us and never once lets go. Be prepared to find yourself on the very edge of your seat for another reason, too, as the very act of trying to diffuse a mine brings with it an inherent disquiet and palpable tension.  

The title is a translation of the Danish (Under Sandit), and, unusually, in English this offers a satisfying play of words. The “land of mine” obviously echoes Rasmussen’s earlier refrain, but it also reflects the scarred Danish coastline which claimed a sizable number of Germany’s youthful generation and significantly impacted its own regeneration.  

Highlight: the tension—well-paced and palpable

Red flags: mines explode and cause terrible damage—enough said


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