Land of Mine (2015)

Review #1,567

Director:  Martin Zandvliet
Cast:  Roland Møller, Louis Hofmann, Joel Basman 
Plot:  In post-WWII Denmark, a group of young German POWs are forced to clear a beach of thousands of land mines under the watch of a Danish Sergeant who slowly learns to appreciate their plight.

Genre:  Drama / History / War
Awards:  Nom. for 1 Oscar - Best Foreign Language Film.  Nom. for Platform Prize (Toronto).
Runtime:  100 mins
Rating:  M18 (passed clean) for violence, some grisly images, and language
International Sales:  K5 International

“If they are old enough to go to war, they are old enough to clean up.”

Telling a true story that happened just after WWII ended that even most Danes aren’t aware of (according to a representative from the Royal Danish Embassy Singapore), Land of Mine is a war movie about its aftermath where the defeated—young German soldiers—are forced by the Danish military to clear the beaches from the mines that the Nazis had cruelly planted on their home soil.  It is a harrowing film insofar as its premise naturally lends a potent dose of tension as these young soldiers (yearning for home and their mothers) grit their teeth and put their lives at risk again.  

The stakes are high, and as skilfully depicted in the opening sequence where these men are put under the pressure of time to disarm those damn things individually, the film has numerous of such moments that are bearers of heart-in-throat uncertainty.  One is certainly reminded of the contemporary war film, The Hurt Locker (2009) by Kathryn Bigelow, about a US bomb disposal squad operating during the Iraq War.

While Bigelow’s film is a much more uncompromising and grittier experience, Land of Mine sees director Martin Zandvliet opting for a polished and slick aesthetic that works almost inconspicuously with the narrative.  One could even say that it looks and plays out like an award-baiting historical WWII drama from Hollywood, hitting predictable narrative beats while also providing a satisfying closure—if it was dubbed in English, it could really pass off as one.  Its Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film is probably another indicator of how familiarly resonant it was to the Academy voters.  It is also accessible to casual viewers and is as far away from the pretensions of arthouse filmmaking as you would imagine.  

Backed by an outstanding performance by Roland Møller (previously an ex-criminal who served time in prison but has been an actor and role-model since 2010), who plays a fierce Danish sergeant in charge of the German boys, Land of Mine is as much about the brutality of war as it is about its countering emotion—empathy.  This is a decent introductory taster to a more mainstream kind of Danish cinema, if you can stomach the unbearable suspense.

Verdict:  A well-told story that despite hitting predictable narrative beats is still naturally suspenseful and riveting.





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