Following in the footsteps of movies like Anthropoid and The Seige of Jadotville, Land of Mine reveals another uncovered piece of history concerning soldiers and war. Nominated for an Academy Award this year for Best Foreign Film, it tells the story of group of young German POWs forced to clear thousands of landmines – which the Nazis had planted – from a Danish beach post-WW2, under the unforgiving eyes of a cruel Danish sergeant.
The Danish soldiers in command look on the young German boys as scum. They teach them, one by one, how to defuse land mines, setting them up in a routine and basically starving them, as the boys risk their lives by the minute. Roland Moller plays Sgt Carl Rasmussen, a violent, brooding man who looms larger than life. His presence alone is unnerving. The boys, at first, a group of tearful, nondescript juveniles, are brought into focus by the sergeant asking them their names. Through close-ups of their bewildered faces we gradually get to know some of the boys almost intimately. The two brothers, who are close like twins, the cheeky optimistic one, the negative scowler, the hero…
Moller does a fantastic job as, to begin with, the outlandishly nasty Sergeant. But he goes through a myriad of emotions in every frame he is in, as he comes to battle with his conscience. These are Germans, remember what they did is the mantra. But they are only small boys, he concludes, as they battle with sickness, and start to die off dramatically. Louis Hofman as the resilient Sebastian is sensitive and compelling, while brothers Oskar and Emil Belton play Ernst and Werner with heartbreaking subtlety. Leon Seidel as cheerful Wilhelm is amazing. He confidently states he is going to be a mechanic when he gets home – the Sergeant has promised them they can return home when they are finished.
Directed by Martin Zandvliet and shot in documentary style, with cinematography by Camilla Hjelm, Land of Mine is an astonishing piece of film. The cinematography is superb, with focus on the white beach, blue sky and sea. It’s stark, but appropriate. It matches the tension, always present.
The film is based on the themes of forgiveness, transformation, caring and humanity, but there are other nuances, such as luck and loyalty and parenting. The only female characters are a woman and a child who live nearby the beach. The woman is totally unsympathetic to German boys, while protective of her daughter. The Danish sergeant is left to parent in his limited, but heartfelt way.
A highly recommended movie and totally deserving of its Oscar nomination.