Director: Martin Zandvliet
Writer: Martin Zandvliet
Stars: Roland Møller, Louis Hofmann, Joel Basman
Martin Zandvliet delivers a highly emotive, powerful, historical drama in the Danish-German film Land of Mine. The film is based on the real life events of German POW’s, forced to clear land mines by hand and the inhumane treatment they faced at the hands of their Danish captors following the Allied victory in World War II.
The opening scene depicts large swathes of surrendered German soldiers walking down a stretch of road. It’s at this point we’re first introduced to Sgt. Carl Rasmussen (Roland Møller). It soon becomes very clear he isn’t the biggest fan of the Germans, which given their recent leading role in conquering the majority of continental Europe, perhaps isn’t too surprising. The brutal beating he dishes out to a young soldier for carrying a Danish flag as a souvenir only serves to underline this. We then meet Lt. Ebbe Jensen (Mikkel Følsgaard), the commanding officer tasked with cleaning up the 1.5 million land mines dotted across the coast of Denmark. He lays the law down to a new batch of German prisoners, making them well aware that they’re friendless in their new environment, whilst explaining exactly what lies ahead for each of them.
And what lies ahead is a harrowing, evocative, heartbreaking experience for both the viewer and the prisoners as they attempt to clear a deserted beach full of thousands of land mines over a period of three months. With the aforementioned Sgt. Carl Rasmussen as their taskmaster, the Germans, mostly made up of young men, are initially starved for two days and met with a cold, intolerant attitude. As the days and weeks progress though, the boys slowly but surely begin to bond with the cold, once unsympathetic veteran and, when several tragedies start to befall their ever dwindling numbers, even he starts become conflicted inside, questioning the bitterness and hatred he harbours, ultimately softening his hardline stance. This new found compassion is tested after a mine is missed following an impromptu game of football with the boys, which leads to the death of his beloved dog, but he is able to see beyond the heartache (though not before making the perpetrator bark and fetch a ball like a dog) and continue his new amicable relationship with the men.
There’s some fantastic performances in this film and the entire cast should take a bow for what is an impressive collective display. Roland Møller is absolutely incredible and the standout performer. The way he was able to portray the horrors from war that his character had clearly witnessed and the effects it had on him without any need for flashbacks and with just mere facial expressions was impressive. The reemergence of Carl’s humanity and compassion as the film progresses in the face of cruelty and at times a sheer lust for vengeance from his fellow Dane Ebbe and even the female owner of the farm, really echoes the overall thematic tone of the film. Louis Hoffman is equally impressive as the young German soldier Sebastian and delivers a sterling performance as the mature head amongst the young group. Meanwhile, Mikkel Følsgaard perfectly portrays the annoyingly, arrogant Ebbe, who’s cruel and at times inhuman actions are not too far flung from the Third Reich that he ironically appears to despise so much.
I have to commend Camilla Hjelm on the outstanding visuals. From the beautiful shots of the sand whipping up from the dunes to the haunting, panoramic, wide shots of the beach seen throughout. The film was an aesthetic delight.
There’s a real claustrophobic air of tension created by Zandvliet whenever the group are out sweeping the beach for mines, which is only further exacerbated by the explosive (pardon the pun), shocking and pretty unpredictable way that some of them perish. It’s for this reason that I haven’t delved further into the story, as it really is an experience that should be enjoyed with the minimum of spoilers. He doesn’t hold back on the visual aspects of these moments either, which only serves to strengthen the sympathy for the Germans. This is a fairly unusual position to find yourself in given 90% of World War II era films feature these guys as faceless enemies. Of course, the roles of the German lads during the conflict itself are never delved into in any great detail and this is surely done deliberately. The whole premise of the film is clearly to show that brutality, depravity and equally acts of compassion are capable of manifesting themselves within each and every one of us, regardless of what side of a conflict we may be perceived to be on.
I absolutely loved this film and I can’t recommend it highly enough.