In post-World War II Denmark, a group of young German POWs is forced to clear a beach of thousands of land mines under the watch of a Danish Sergeant who slowly learns to appreciate their plight.
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War movies usually conjure up images of visceral battle scenes (the opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan
, or the second half of Hacksaw Ridge
), tense standoffs (Willem Dafoe's big moment in Platoon
, or the head-butting of Sean Penn and Michael J. Fox in Casualties of War
), or uneasy paranoia (all of Apocalypse Now
), but what happens when the fighting stops? That is the side of war that is explored in the Academy Award-Nominated Danish movie Land of Mine
Set just after the end of World War II, Land of Mine
is about a group of captured German soldiers who are placed under the command of a Danish sergeant named Carl Rasmussen (Roland Møller from A Hijacking
) and forced to clear a beach in Denmark of explosive mines left over from the German occupation of the homeland. The young Germans are trained to diffuse the devices, then are set out every day to locate and dismantle the thousands of buried mines. Each night, Sgt. Rasmussen locks them in their quarters until the next day when they do it all over again. As he gets to know the boys, however, Rasmussen begins to show cracks in his military stoicism towards his workers.
Land of Mine
was written and directed by Martin Zandvliet (A Funny Man
), and it is, at its core, a story of redemption and understanding. Although they are forced to do it, the young Germans must redeem themselves but clearing the beach of the explosives that their own people planted there before they are allowed to return home. Sergeant Rasmussen is led to understand that the young German men, really not much more than boys, are only his enemy by uniform, and the war is now over. Once he looks past their insignias, they are really the same as he is.
Parts of Land of Mine
are predictable. It doesn't take an observational genius to see that Rasmussen is going to befriend the boys. But there are surprises and shocks along the way to Rasmussen becoming his platoon's own little Oscar Schindler. And those surprises and shocks are what make Land of Mine
so powerful, gripping, and, at times, heart-wrenching.
Land of Mine
is, to say the least, not a typical war movie. The violence is just as visceral and packs the same punch, and the paranoia is every bit as tense, but the effect is all the more startling because the feelings don't come from the fighting. Land of Mine
is deep, introspective, and moving. It's powerful, like both a shotgun blast and a raging river.
Martin Zandvliet is a master of suspense. In Land of Mine
, he quite literally uses Alfred Hitchcock's "show them the bomb" technique, with explosive results (pun intended). It is known from the start that the German boys are given live explosives in their mine-diffusing training, and Zandvliet lets the audience see up close exactly what is happening, showing the hands and fingers of each worker as they deftly and dexterously dismantle the devices, the viewer always expecting the situation to end in a big BOOM! And sometimes it comes, sometimes it doesn't. On the beaches, as the minesweepers are carrying out their mission/punishment, it's even less safe; as the boys get confident in their skills, they also get careless. Zandvliet uses the same technique there, showing the boys brushing sand away before beginning to take the mines apart, and the audience can't help but hold their collective breath. The fact that Zandvliet lets his audience know that the mines can blow at any time and that no one is safe in his movie makes Land of Mine
an agonizingly intense, nail-biting experience.