Land of Mine Review
Whether it's pure coincidence or clever planning by the distributors, Land of Mine arrives in timely fashion. While Christopher Nolan and Harry Styles hang around the Dunkirk beaches waiting to return home, Martin Zandvliet's film recalls how the Danish coastline was cleared of 1.5 million landmines at the tail end of the Second World War. Having been laid by the German army it was, of course, imperative they were removed. This hazardous job was forced upon the thousands of German soldiers who had surrendered following the Nazi defeat in the Nordic region, overseen by the British army who circumnavigated Geneva Convention law in the process.
We find ourselves with one such group, ten young lads who have been shipped off to the coast under the watchful eye of Sergeant Carl Rasmussen (Roland Møller). Watching him verbally and physically attack a line of defeated German soldiers marching across the borderline, his introduction to the story is brutally effective and quickly lays out the attitude of the Danish and Allied forces and the grim job that lay ahead of them. Rasmussen’s dominating presence remains a key figure throughout, at first seen as a hard disciplinarian before gradually revealing a more rounded personality. He is a man scarred by the atrocities of war and Møller manages to convey those psychological scars without turning to caricature.
The boys are only given a quick crash course on disarming the landmines, already losing one of their number during the training exercise. The officers in charge couldn’t care whether they survive the task or end up being blown to pieces, viewing them as disposable and easily replaceable. As quickly as Zandvliet was able to outline Rasmussen’s profile, he does so too with the young men, showing each as terrified boys, unsure whether to be more scared of detonating an unexploded landmine or the imposing figure of the Sergeant. Despite the despicable nature of the army they were forced to serve under, Zandvliet makes it clear that the boys are the victims in this scenario, their energies once again being used by an armed force to achieve a larger goal.
The very nature of the story brings with it an almost unbearable level of tension at times. Every moment spent out on the beach searching for landmines is shadowed by the fear of them all being blown to smithereens. Zandvliet handles these scenes exceptionally well, with each explosion felt to maximum effect. Which is impressive because you do eventually reach a point where you can anticipate who the next victim will be. The growing faults within the script do hold the story back by falling into unnecessary clichés and creating plot points that do little to enhance the film.
Rasmussen’s humanity hasn’t been completely ravaged by his recent war torn past and more time spent with the boys convinces him to see them as ordinary kids, rather than brutal German soldiers. Møller’s performance is convincingly heartfelt and the young actors also do a sterling job of showing the tragedy of their situation. Land of Mine is another reminder of the grey area that lies between those who claim the high moral ground and those who shoulder much of the blame. Similar to Cate Shortland’s Lore (2012) its focus on a small group of people serves to represent a nation left to pick up the pieces, while attempting to make sense of new world that no longer wants them in it.