Film Review: Land of Mine

This well-made drama borrows a little-known sliver of history concerning Denmark’s post-war mistreatment of young German POWs forced to defuse and extract land mines off Danish beaches to make its case that people are all the same.
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Land of Mine mines (sorry) some genuinely suspenseful and emotional moments from, according to the press notes, the fact that just after the war in 1945, more than 2,000 German POWs were put to work removing over 1.5 million landmines from the west coast of Denmark, where the Nazis suspected the Allied invasion would take place.

Viewers will appreciate writer-director Martin Zandvliet’s engrossing interpretation of this premise, which yields fine performances from the few soldiers in charge and half-dozen or so young actors playing the POWs they oversee. Also strong and hinting at the filmmaker’s background in documentaries are his effective close-ups (whether agonized faces or nervous hands prying the live spherical landmines from the sand or of hands cupping beetles or carving wood as the POWs try to amuse themselves).

Going panoramic-wide are the scenes on the beautiful but isolated seaside beaches diabolically tainted by the mass of landmines hiding beneath. A grim barracks nearby houses the German captives.

Overseeing them and careful to seal them in the barracks each night (if they’re lucky enough to return from work) is Sergeant Rasmussen (Roland Møller), a cruel, brutish Dane (at least towards the POWs he oversees) who is scornful of his country’s five-year occupation and takes out his anger on the young soldiers.

The POWs include Sebastian (Louis Hofmann), a handsome older teen with whom Rasmussen might bond; twins Ernst and Werner (Emil and Oskar Belton), who are young bricklayers; the slightly rebellious Helmut (Joel Basman), and Wilhelm (Leon Seidel), looking forward to his mechanic’s job back in Germany. Usually hungry, they might get lucky with some bread and potatoes.

Not quite a Stalag 17 with kids, the group does display intermittent camaraderie, desperation, stamina and heroism, underlining the messages that people are all the same deep down and Denmark should be ashamed of its bad post-war behavior.

The story is compact and the bit of history conveyed, however accurately, is interesting and unique. Zandvliet impressively crafts moments of suspense as his POWs poke metal rods into the sand and raises the stakes that some may end up dead or mutilated. On a nicer note, Land of Mine is also a story of survival and forgiveness.

But Zandvliet also enters his own controversial minefield with his depiction of the Danish soldiers (with a few Allied nasties thrown in). Often barking or bullying in the German they learned during Denmark’s occupation, Rasmussen and others sometimes come close to the stereotypes of thuggish, sadistic Nazis so familiar onscreen.

And Zandvliet’s “sampling” raises questions regarding the historical facts: Was Danish hostility and treatment of their prisoners really that extreme? How many of the thousands of POWs put to such work were really that young? And, recalling Hitler Youth and the notorious Menendez “boys,” were these younger captives as innocent as the film wants us to believe?

But that touch of controversy can only stir more filmgoer interest. Land of Mine, in addition to questions, certainly merits respect and attention.

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