VOD film review: Land of Mine
Matthew Turner | On 04, Aug 2017
Director: Martin Zandvliet
Cast: Roland Møller, Louis Hofmann, Joel Basman
Nominated for the Best Foreign Film Oscar, this gripping Danish war thriller from writer-director Martin Zandvliet is based on a little-known piece of history from the end of WWII. It’s a fascinating and chilling story that marks out Zandvliet as a significant talent to watch.
The film opens with Danish Army Sergeant Rassmussen (Roland Moller) angrily punching defeated German soldiers, as they march out of Denmark. Soon afterwards, Rassmussen receives a new assignment – he is in charge of training a group of German POWs (most of them teenagers) and then supervising them, as they painstakingly remove some 45,000 landmines from a remote stretch of Danish beach.
Still boiling with fury after five years of German occupation, Rassmussen isn’t particularly concerned about the welfare of his charges, locking them in a shed at night and barely bothering to feed them. However, as the boys begin their impossibly dangerous task, he gradually softens towards them, forging a touching bond with their de facto leader, Sebastian (Louis Hofmann).
Zandvliet has cast his film extremely well. Moller is a compelling presence as Rassmussen and his character arc, while admittedly predictable (you can tell he has a soft spot, because he has a cute dog), is immediately engaging. The young cast are superb, as the naïve soldiers – it’s clear that none of them have seen much action in terms of warfare, each of them having been conscripted by Hitler towards the end of the conflict.
Hofmann is particularly good as Sebastian, displaying a sensitivity, an intelligence and a sense of compassion that marks him out as a natural leader – all qualities that Rasmussen belatedly comes to appreciate. Emil and Oskar Belton are both terrific as inseparable, baby-faced identical twins Ernst and Werner.
Zandvliet’s script plays complex, shifting games with ideas of sympathy, not least when high-ranking Danish and English officers (including Mikkel Boe Følsgaard as Rasmussen’s sneering superior) show up to drunkenly abuse the boys. It’s made clear that the boys are entirely innocent, but you find yourself wondering whether you’d feel the same level of sympathy for them, if they were standard issue evil Nazis familiar from dozens of war pictures.
Needless to say, the film is unbearably tense from beginning to end. The structure is particularly impressive – Zandvliet establishes the perilously high stakes early on, when one of the boys gets blown to smithereens, and thereafter, every time the boys shove their mine-detecting sticks into the sand, your heart rises into your mouth. At times, the film almost feels like a prestigious horror movie, as you know that not all of the boys are going to get off that beach alive. That element is given an extra twist by the fact that they’ve all been told they can go home once the job is done, so, at a certain point, they allow themselves to fantasise about what they’ll do when they make it back to Germany.
The film looks stunning throughout, with cinematographer Camilla Hjelm Knudsen (the director’s wife; their young daughter also plays a key role) making striking use of both the Danish beach locations and the crisp sunlight.
By turns chilling, heart-breaking and provocative, this is a powerful, well made war thriller that’s worth seeking out.