By Ali Hassan, Contributing Writer
Danish Director Martin Zandvliet’s new film “Land of Mine” follows the tale of a group of German prisoners of war (POWs) who are forced to defuse landmines, making for a complex and heartrending film. It successfully portrays the Nazi POWs not as evil men being made to pay for their sins, but as untrained boys who were cruelly forced to perform a task that is both mentally torturous and physically dangerous.
The film is set in post-WW2 Denmark, a time and place where Danish sympathy towards Germans was low following the Nazis occupation of Denmark for the previous five years. After Germany surrendered, Denmark captured German troops and put them to task by forcing them to clear the 2.1 million landmines that the Nazis had planted on Danish beaches — with their bare hands.
After receiving minimal training, a handful of POWs are assigned to Sergeant Rasmussen (Roland Moller). Rasmussen, an angry and aggressive man, wants nothing to do with the young boys and forces them to clear mines all day long under terrible conditions. However, as the young boys start to die in landmine explosions, he becomes softer as he realizes that the Nazi POWs he used to despise are nothing more than children stuck in a horrible situation.
Zandvliet expertly depicts clearing landmines as an arduous endeavor that takes a toll on the boys’ psyche, even if does not kill them. He builds suspense cyclically: anxiety grows and grows, culminating in an explosion that kills a POW. Then, the cycle begins again. With each explosion, the atmosphere becomes grimmer as the remaining boys become more and more aware of their precarious situation. Staying alive is no longer the biggest struggle; instead, staying sane is.
Tension between the boys also ebbs and flows; one wants to run away while another does not like the idea, and they must contend with each other in order to win the support of their comrades.
All the while, the sergeant goes through moral conflicts of his own. At the beginning of the movie, he is constantly yelling at the boys, taking out his fury about the German occupation. However, he feels increasingly horrified each time a boy dies while trying to defuse a landmine. Rasmussen’s character development is very moving. Not only does he go out of his way to make the Germans’ living conditions at least a little more bearable, but he also challenges his authorities with about the ethics of are what they are doing. His conversations with his Danish army counterparts bring about valuable questions — is it okay to torture a Nazi? Are the POWs Nazis, or are they mere children? Can someone be both?
“Land of Mine” is an excellent film that is dramatic, suspenseful and thought-provoking. It is a wonderful addition to the growing WWII catalog.
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