Land of Mine
• Four stars
• Director Martin Zandvliet
• Starring Roland Moller, Louis Hofmann
• Running time 101 minutes
German soldiers buried millions of mines on Denmark’s beaches during their occupation of the neighbouring country for almost all of WWII. Surely it was their job to defuse those same mines when the Allies finally won. Sergeant Carl Rasmussen (Roland Moller) — who illustrates his pent-up rage in the film’s opening sequence by beating up a vanquished soldier after he souvenirs a Danish flag — is unequivocal on the matter. After five years, he feels nothing but contempt for his German occupiers. Even when Rasmussen meets the group of POWs that have been assigned to him — some as young as 15 — he doesn’t waver. But as, one by one, the kids are blown up or maimed, the ethical complexities of his situation start to become apparent. Over time, Rasmussen can’t help but develop relationships with his young charges, conscripted by Hilter during the last days of the war.
He, like his audience, is forced to question notions of justice, culpability and retribution much more rigorously. And that’s what makes Land of Mine bearable. Because the scenes in which the boys inch their way across the sand on their bellies, prodding carefully for the tell-tale clink, digging the mines out with their bare hands, are close to unwatchable. When they come, the explosions — caused by shaky fingers, freak accidents, booby traps — are almost a relief.
Understated performance from a fine bunch of young actors, including Louis Hofmann, who plays Sebastian, the natural leader of group, ensure an intense emotional investment on the part of the audience. Nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Film, Land of Mine is inspired by real events. Two thousand German soldiers were forced to remove mines. Many of them were teenagers. Half lost their lives or limbs. It’s a little-known story, powerfully told. The message is both timely and timeless.