Land of Mine
Danish writer-director Martin Zandvliet knocked it out of the park with this, his debut film. It snagged an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film, and deservedly so.
It’s another World War II story, which means there will be predictable moments, and paths we’ve been taken down before. There were a few times I thought about The Hurt Locker, and even the ‘60s movie The Bridge on the River Kwai. I also thought about the most recent war movie, which I found disappointing. That would be Mel Gibson’s poorly directed Hacksaw Ridge. Unlike Hacksaw Ridge, which was a true story — this is a fictional tale about a real thing that happened. After World War II, young German soldiers and POW were sent to Denmark to clean land mines that were left on the coast during the German occupation. Now, I had heard a little about that when I went to a fundraiser Paul McCartney did with his wife Heather Mills. Her big charity was helping people that lost limbs to land mines left during war.
In this fictional story, Sergeant Carl Rasmussen (Roland Moller of A Second Chance) is about as tough as they come. In the opening scene, as soldiers are marching out, he pulls his jeep over just to smack some of them around. He’s intense and menacing throughout the film. Some might find it unbelievable that he softens a bit, but I bought it. After all, he’s barking orders at teenagers, many of whom are crying about missing their mom and life at home.
There are over 22,000 mines on a stretch of beach, and 20 teenagers are given a quick lesson in how to defuse them. Now, remember how scared David Caruso was in An Officer and a Gentleman when they did the training that sent him shooting into the swimming pool upside down? Well, imagine training with live land mines that will blow up if you do something wrong.
And imagine the sergeant bossing you around not giving a crap, because you’re the enemy. You’ll be on the edge of your seat with anxiety. You’ll also be hoping Sergeant Rasmussen steps on one of these mines. He’s so inhumane to these kids, it’s disgusting. Yet just as you reach your boiling point with him, he starts to soften a bit. It’s totally understandable, it is rather inhumane. Especially since you’re not looking at this group of young men as Nazis. That being said, I wouldn’t fault any Jewish person watching this to feel the same way the Sergeant feels about these guys in the beginning. I also know of at least two critics that hate when the war (specifically, the Holocaust) is used in movies that are geared towards making money. I get that, too. Yet there can always be somebody that’s offended by something on screen, so I’m merely looking to be entertained. Yet you get burned out with so many war films, although I loved American Sniper, and didn’t care for Hacksaw. This is surprisingly nuanced and rather interesting. That doesn’t mean it’s without its faults. Just as you wonder if anybody is going to get blown up, a character starts talking about the shop he’s going to open when he gets home, and the girlfriend he has. BOOM! Yeah, the film can be predictable that way.
Oh, and there’s always a little girl playing on the beach. The first time her mom runs after her, you wonder why she’d be allowed to go anywhere near prisoners. Not just are they dangerous, but perhaps she didn’t get the memo about the beach being littered with landmines.
There’s great cinematography and a powerful moral quandary.
It could’ve used some subtly in places, and it lacked character development. All that being said…this was a powerful film I’m glad I caught.
And if the Oscars were going to award French actress Isabelle Huppert of Elle a nomination, how did they let Roland Moller get by without one? HIs presence in this blew me away.
3 ½ stars out of 5.