Land of Mine (2016)
It’s 1945, and the Germans have just surrendered, having occupied the Danish homeland since 1940. We see a long line of unarmed German soldiers walking down a road. A Danish Sergeant named Rasmussen (Roland Møller) is driving in the opposite direction. He suddenly sees something he doesn’t like, a German soldier carrying a flag. He skids to a stop and gets out, confronting the young soldier, hitting the soldier until he is left bleeding and hurt on the ground. When another soldier tries to intervene, the Sergeant reacts violently with that soldier as well, cussing and hitting the two soldiers. He gathers the flag and gets back into his jeep, yelling insults at the Germans as he drives off.
We cut to a group of German soldiers standing in formation, each one seemingly younger than the next. The men are standing in front of a concrete bunker on the beach. They are being told that they are responsible for removing over 2 million landmines the Germans had laid on the beaches of Denmark in the preparation of the Allied invasion which never came. Lt. Ebbe Jensen (Mikkel Boe Folsgaard) gives the Germans a quick course in how to dismantle a landmine and then has each boy pick up a live mine and go into the bunker alone to dismantle it. We meet each boy as they nervously go into the bunker to dismantle the mines. Lt. Jensen shows no sympathy for the Germans, telling them that he doesn’t care if they live or die, he just wants’s his beaches cleared of the mines. Luck doesn’t hold up as one of the boys, urged by an always yelling Lt. Jensen, is blown up by a mine inside the bunker. Lt. Jensen reacts as if it’s a bother that the kid blew up.
We next see the boys in the back of a truck. We see in their faces that they realize that the task in front of them is dangerous, and many won’t survive. They arrive at their destination and without explanation, are left on a family farm near the coast. As they arrive, they see a young girl playing in front of the farmhouse. Very quickly, the mother of the child gathers her up and takes her inside. They examine a building in front of them, some sort of bunkhouse and then they notice that a jeep is rapidly approaching. Out of the jeep comes Sergeant Rasmussen, who gruffly gets them to line up. It’s very obvious that he hates the Germans, no matter how young they are. He learns their names and they quickly grasp not to mess with the blustery Sergeant. The Sergeant tells the boys that they are to remove over 45,000 landmines and if they work hard and clear their section of the beach, they can go home in three or four months. The Sergeant and the boys are about to go on a journey that very few will survive, and those that do will be changed forever.
Writer/director Martin Zandvliet brings us a taut and tension filled film that is worthy of its Foreign Language Film nomination at this year’s Oscars. The film is uncomfortably tense right from the start and continues throughout to build the tension, as we get to know and in some cases, fall in love the boys. Zandvliet lets us discover who the boys are, as they, themselves figure that out too. Most of the Germans served in different parts of the army, except two young twin brothers, one timider than the other. This is where his script is the strongest, giving us characters that are fully fleshed out, letting us see up close and personal how the war has affected not only the boys but the Sergeant and the farming family as well.
There are powerful moments in the film that aren’t going to soon leave you. Some of the most high-powered scenes surprisingly aren’t the deaths that occur, but the small moments when connections are made during this horrible experience. The Sergeant goes through the biggest transformation in the film, and Roland Møller brings a sincerity to the screen, especially in his one-on-one scenes with the boys. Zandvliet gets a dynamic and forceful performance from Møller, commanding your attention every time that he is on the screen. Of the boys, most of which are unknowns, Louis Hofmann, gives a compelling performance that is multi-dimensional and has implications of subtlety. He plays Sebastian, a slightly older boy who takes charge of the soldiers and keeps them going against unbelievable odds.
Zandvliet makes use of the fantastic widescreen cinematography of Camilla Hjelm, who makes the beaches seemly, endless and impossible to clear. Land of Mine is a film that dares to make heroes out of villains as the boys are shown to be paying for the sins of a nation and ideology that due to their young age, they didn’t have much to do with. The film brings to light a crime that was committed under the auspices of repairing a war-torn nation but instead, really was about getting revenge, revenge that was brutal and mean spirited, as revenge can be. Land of Mine is a film that you soon won’t forget, and also, you shouldn’t. My Rating: I Would Pay to See it Again
My movie rating system from Best to Worst: 1). I Would Pay to See it Again 2). Full Price 3). Bargain Matinee 4). Cable 5). You Would Have to Pay Me to See it Again
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