“Land of Mine” (2016)
Running Time: 90 minutes
Written & Directed by: Martin Zandvliet
Featuring: Roland Møller, Mikkel Følsgaard
Sgt. Carl Rasmussen: “Those of you who count the mines, make sure my card is updated. This task is as important as defusing mines.”
After the recent German elections where for in everything but name, the Nazi party has made a big comeback securing many seats in the parliament, it may be hard to remember that they drove Germany to a War as well as huge defeat, marking some of the darkest days in that countries history. There have always been films made about the War, as well as Nazis, but there has been an increasing trend to make more films about the aftermath of that War and what happened to people that were on the losing end. This is partly what “Land of Mine” (2016) is about, it also gives an insight into what it was like to win, the feelings that were aloud to run rampant by the victors, as well as the plight of young men who really had no idea what they were getting into.
Writer/Director Martin Zandvliet who hails from Denmark where “Land of Mine” is set, has created a film that touches on many subjects as well as themes, obviously war, its aftermath, are the primary themes, which sit on the surface waiting to be defused. The film also concerns itself with a country that was occupied by the Nazis, once liberated shows no compulsion in treating its prisoners of war like human garbage, in some cases mobile toilets. What makes this situation worse is that the prisonsers we are concerned with are all nothing more than boys, who were sent into battle when the Third Reich was crumbling and running out of soldiers.
“Land of Mine” is set n the days following the end of World War II just after the liberation of Denmark from Nazi occupation in May 1945. A group of young German prisoners of war are handed over to the Danish Army and subsequently sent out to the West Coast, where they are trained to remove the more than two million mines that the Germans had placed in the sand along the coast.
Zandvliet has crafted a simple tale that resonates through its characters as well as their situation. The very reason that the boys are in the army is because of hate, the very reason that their Danish captor is there is because of hate. The boys who are defusing the mines do not have a choice about the horrendous job they have to complete. Going into it they realize how dangerous it is, but they get to their task as willing as they can be knowing that some of them will be maimed or even killed because of it. Their Danish supervisor after ill treating them starts to realize he has a need for revenge but these boys are essentially innocent, having been born a few years too late to avoid being drafted. This of course leads to some surprising friendships that none of them could see coming. This is truly a film about forgiveness, as well as understanding, but also the fatalistic future one has because of something others have perpetrated on behalf on others. There is nothing more relevant than this, it can be related to the world we are living in today – I don’t mean to sound political but this is what the film is a metaphor of – our world, right now. The world is being led by a couple of people in power down a path that we will all pay the price for, whether its political, economical or sociological.
The cast are all completely suited to the film as well their parts, considering a large portion of them are under twenty years old, they all show great composure in what must have difficult parts to play. If there is a lead it is Roland Møller as Sgt. Carl Rasmussen the ‘leader; of the pack as well of course the jailer of the boys. Møller has the job of playing a character who is conflicted both internally as well as externally, he must juxtapose many emotions, sometimes within the same scene which is an acting challenge few would be able to meet – especially in a believable way. This is a man playing a person who has a hatred for the vanquished enemy but also must reconcile this with the fact that his ‘enemy’ that he is able to punish are little more than children. It is his burden to carry when these children meet some pretty sad ends, and then is double-crossed by their own captors.
One of the central aspects of this film that makes it so gripping is the main location of the film, at a beach, which would normally be innocuous enough, but the fact that this beach has land mines laid all around makes it a unique danger to anyone that ventures there. Not only that but all of the German prisoners as well as their Dutch jailer are living in accommodation that holiday makers may have stayed at in more peaceful times. The location lends itself to casualness, as well as a general looseness among the boys, so much so that they sometimes forget what they are there for; this leads to deadly consequences for the young men. Of course this is not just restricted to the boys as a few scenes involving the Dutch Sergeant, his family as well as his dog who he loves, remind him of the seriousness of the plight they all find themselves in. This seaside locale should be a retreat, a place of fun as well as a location for people to bond, but it hides a deadly secret which is what the people of Denmark will do (at least for a while), they are liberated, true, but there will be a secret they hide in regard to the years of occupation, which unlike the mines cannot be swept away easily.
This is a truly remarkable film, with no easy answers about what the Dutch had to face after the War, as well as what to do with their prisoners of war There is no doubt that as a people they would have felt the need for recrimination against the German soldiers that had invaded and inhabited their country. Of course the unfortunate aspect is that the face of the German Army as well as Germany itself were teenage boys who just wanted to go home, rebuild Germany, as well as seeing their families. It is probably certain that the boys here were not even part of the Hitler Youth, just conscripted boys put into service by the Third Reich.
I recommend this highly you will not be disappointed by a film that is full of high drama as well as suspense that is set in a real world that existed, and may exist again one day if we are not careful to repeat the mistakes of the past.
“Land of Mine” is out now on DVD.