LAND OF MINE (Denmark|Germany/15A/101 mins)
Directed by Martin Zandvliet. Starring Roland Moller, Louis Hofmann, Oskar Belton, Emil Belton.
THE PLOT: The Danish coastline, May 1945. After five years of occupation by German forces, Sergeant Carl (Roland Moller) can’t wait to see them leave. As we discover in the opening scene, he hates them with a vengeance and for what they’ve done to his country. The war may be over on paper, but it continues in his mind. In anticipation of a possible invasion of Europe through Denmark, German forces littered beaches with over 2 million land mines – more than any other country. Carl is tasked with leading a group of 14 young German soldiers to dig out, disarm and dispose of these mines. Among the group are Sebastian (Louis Hofmann) and twins Werner (Oskar Belton) and Ernst (Emil Belton). It’s dangerous work, but freedom awaits them at the end…
THE VERDICT: Denmark scored an Oscar Nomination for Best Foreign Language film this year with ‘Land Of Mine’, a title that is loaded with meaning. It’s inspired by true events and highlights the fact that the cost of war continues even after a nation’s surrender. It’s not just the humiliation of defeat for these German soldiers, but also the realisation that they have to clean up the mess they created. That’s not all they have to deal with. They also meet with hostility from locals and a have severe lack of food. Feeding German soldiers isn’t a priority and Carl makes no bones about that early on.
The film is centred on the character of Carl, an embittered man who goes through a subtle character arc. While he may despise them, he develops fatherly instincts towards them later on. They are, after all, young men barely out of their teens who have already experienced the horrors of war. They have their whole lives ahead of them, assuming they can survive the beach and its inherent risk of instant injury and death. Moller is excellent here, giving a strong performance that swings back and forth between anger and sympathy. Later on, there’s a sense that he knows they’re not soldiers or even Germans. They’re just kids with one foot already in the grave who want to go home. The younger actors spark off him well too, particularly the soulful Hofmann.
Director Martin Zandvliet literally mines the tension and suspense of his scenario, so sitting comfortably isn’t much of an option here. Mines do explode, but not in a gratuitous manner. He’s more interested in the after-effects, rather than the immediate reaction. A character disappearing altogether after a mine explodes is far more distressing than an injured one. Zandvliet makes smart choices here in his direction, emphasising the humanity rather than the inhumanity. There’s a clear anti-war message here which will linger long after the credits roll. ‘Land Of Mine’ may sound like a risky proposition, but it’s an ultimately rewarding one. Zandvliet achieves a perfect balance between character, tension and meaning. It’s certainly better than ‘The Salesman’, the film that won the Oscar instead.
RATING: 4/5
Review by Gareth O’Connor