Land of Mine

LAND OF MINE (Under Sandet). Starring: Roland Moller, Mikkel Folsgaard, and Louis Hofmann. Directed by Martin Zandvliet. Rated MA 15+. Restricted. (Strong themes and violence). 101min.

This Denmark-German, subtitled drama tells the story of German Prisoners of War who cleared land mines in Denmark after World War II. In the post-war period, more than 2000 German soldiers were forced to remove mines, and almost half of them lost their limbs, or their life. This film, which dramatises true-life events in Denmark, successfully swept Denmark's film awards in 2016, and was nominated as Best Foreign Film by Denmark for the Oscar Awards in 2017.

In May, 1945, a group of teenage German POWs were ordered to remove mines which were still alive in a beach along Denmark's coast line. Deadly mines were scattered all along Denmark's ocean coast by Germany in anticipation of an Allied invasion. The young boys were promised that they could return home if they defused the mines successfully, but Denmark never honoured its promise.

The group was under the charge of Danish Sergeant, Carl Rasmussen (Roland Moller). The boys were terrified, homesick, and untrained for the task. The leader of the teenage group was Sebastien Schumann (Louis Hofmann), who knew the boys had to try to complete their task.

Rasmussen struggled to hide his feelings, given what was happening to his charges, but his superior (Mikkel Folsgaard), remembered Denmark's brutal occupation by Germany, and was ruthlessly callous. Rasmussen's personal journey in the film from being a stern and revengeful person to a man of sympathy and understanding for the boy's predicament is beautifully developed and acted. When Denmark broke its promise to send the teenagers home after the mines were defused, Rasmussen decided against orders to help the boys, and the four remaining teenagers crossed to Germany from Denmark with his help.

There are strong scenes of carnage in this movie. The boys defuse the mines by hand, and we see their bodies bloodied by explosions, lying dismembered in the sand. The film is one of a number of deeply moving films that dramatically address the post-war relevance of revenge and forgiveness. This is a film about human struggle, and it exposes the viewer to terrible decisions made by human beings about the lives of other human beings. The brutality of war is strongly evident in its images, and the film is tightly controlled by Martin Zandvliet, who rarely lets it slip into sentimentality.

The film is harrowing, unsettling, and thought provoking, but relatively apolitical. It might have focused on the violation of international law that deals with unfair treatment of prisoners - Denmark clearly broke the Geneva Convention - but it doesn't. Instead, it focuses on the rage induced by occupation, and the boys themselves, whose lives were sacrificed by inhumane decision-making.

The camera sweeps across sand dunes, beach dwellings, ocean borders, and landscapes. The movie is not unpredictable in any way. The viewer knows immediately that tragedy is inevitable. The tension, however, is masterfully directed. It goes hand in hand with utter certainty, and although the boys are marked for death, tension always keeps its grip, reminding one of the mix of fear and certainty that brilliantly characterised Cluzot's classic 1953 film, "The Wages of Fear".

The title of this movie is a pun that intentionally plays on words. At its core, the film depicts the retribution that lingers in memory, when one country punishes another for the violence and death it has endured, and it argues movingly for the need to treat with forgiveness what remains in memory from the past. Significantly, the joining of Denmark and Germany in the production of this movie signals hope for the future after mutual acceptance of terrible events.

Peter W. Sheehan is Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting

Palace Films

Released March 30, 2017

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