By Linc Leifeste | March 17, 2017
Director: Martin Zandvliet
Writer: Martin Zandvliet
Starring: Roland Møller, Louis Hofmann, Joel Basman, Mikkel Boe Følsgaard, Oskar Bökelmann, Emil Belton, Oskar Belton
There is an inherent tension and drama in the true story the Danish film Land of Mine is based on, a story I’d never heard about prior to screening the film. It seems a number of young German POW’s were sent down to the Danish coast at the end of WWII to clear (find and disarm) the more than two million mines that had been placed there (it seems the Nazis mistakenly thought the D-Day landing was going to take place on the Danish coast).
The film opens strikingly with heaving breathing over a black screen as credits roll before we see an intensely angry Danish sergeant Rasmussen (Roland Moller) sitting in his jeep watching a stream of German POW’s being marched down the road. He’s soon assaulting a prisoner who is carrying a Danish flag under his arm, making the point that this is “HIS country” and not theirs. Those somewhat familiar with Nazi occupation will probably be prone to seeing his anger as somewhat righteous.
We soon learn of the Danish plan to use some of these German POW’s to clear landmines. As we’re introduced to these captured soldiers, it’s soon shockingly apparent just how young and green these boys are. These are not the adult, seasoned Nazi soldiers of early in the war but instead the youth pressed into service late in the conflict as Hitler became more desperate. As we witness Sgt. Rasmussen, tasked with overseeing a group of dozen or so prisoners’ efforts to clear one piece of the Danish coastline, eagerly instilling fear and discipline into these young men, it quickly becomes apparent that these kids are not truly fitting recipients of his righteous anger.
These POW’s are also victims of the Nazi regime, much like the Danish victim’s of Hitler’s mad quest for power. And now they are serving as convenient scapegoats while thanklessly performing a dangerous but necessary task. If some or all of them die in the process, nobody but maybe their mothers back home in Germany will weep for them. The film is filled with moments of intense dread, fear and anxiety as these boys carry out their task in hopes that maybe they will survive the process and make it back home. The sad reality is that many perished along that coastline.
Filled with almost universally strong performances, Rasmussen’s turn as a solitary, angry, violent man who slowly comes to value the humanity and dignity of his charges is especially powerful. There are a few plot missteps, with a couple of overwritten and unnecessarily obvious and ham-handed plot points momentarily spoiling the well-crafted powerful atmosphere of the film but they’re not enough to derail all that writer/director Martin Zandvliet and crew accomplish with this harrowing, powerful humanizing tale of the dehumanizing brutality of war and its lingering after effects.