Despite having an inherently fascinating subject, Land of Mine, Denmark’s entry for Best Foreign Language Film at this year’s Oscars, plays more like a dry history lesson instead of a movie.
While writer-director Martin Zandvliet has the decency not to end the film with the now obligatory footage of real participants during the closing credits, it might have been more worthwhile to simply let a filmmaker like Ken Burns recount the facts, which in this case are more intriguing than fiction.
As World War II ends in Europe, the irate Dane Sgt. Carl Rasmussen (Roland Møller) verbally and physically abuses German soldiers as their wearily retreat.
He has plenty of reason for his fury.
If Germans had not only invaded your country but also buried countless mines along the beaches, you’d be violently angry as well.
“If Germans had not only invaded your country but also buried countless mines along the beaches, you’d be violently angry as well.”
To rectify the problem, Sgt. Rasmussen supervises the remaining German soldiers who are in Denmark to remove all the mines their army had left behind. If the quantity of the weapons weren’t intimidating enough, the fellows who have the task of removing them are ill-suited for it.
By the end of the war, Hitler sent teens and sometimes mere boys to fight because the trained soldiers had almost all died on the front. The captured troops under Sgt. Rasmussen’s watch have barely hit puberty and have little idea how to undo the damage their predecessors have done. Most of these lads simply want to go home to their moms.
Even the training for de-mining is lethal. If one of the boys doesn’t deactivate the mine quickly enough or works on one with fragile components, it detonates just as easily as if they had stepped on it.
The stakes in Land of Mine are certainly high, and the situation is urgent. Nonetheless, Zandvliet has trouble getting the story to move. While it’s easy to see why the lads burst into tears often, 100 minutes of it can get redundant quickly.
“…the entire globe is still littered with mines even though the conflicts that led to their use have ended decades ago.”
It doesn’t help that the youngsters who have this essential but unenviable task are difficult to distinguish from each other. It’s almost as if someone cloned the Germans or as if Zandvliet had tried a writing exercise where he populated the de-mining crew with identical versions of the same character.
The only performer who has any room to work is Møller who gets to play both righteous anger and sympathy for the boys in his care. His Sgt. Rasmussen is the one character who grows during the film, and Møller handles the transformation effortlessly.
Perhaps the saddest aspect of Land of Mine is that the entire globe is still littered with mines even though the conflicts that led to their use have ended decades ago. Princess Diana became a vocal and persuasive advocate for removing them not only from where they’re buried but from warfare altogether. What’s the point of taking land if it can’t be used?
The people who take on the danger of removing these weapons and deactivating them are heroes. Therefore it is heartbreaking that the young Germans in Land of Mine didn’t ask to take on such an necessary but overwhelming duty.
Land of Mine (Under sandet) (2016) Directed by Martin Zandvliet. Written by Martin Zandvliet. Starring: Roland Møller, Louis Hofmann, Joel Basman, Mikkel Boe Følsgaard, Laura Bro, Zoe Zandvliet, Mads Riisom, Oskar Bökelmann, Emil Belton
6 out of 10