Synopsis: A young group of German POWs are made the enemy of a nation, where they are now forced to dig up 2 million land-mines with their bare hands.
Stars: Roland Møller, Louis Hofmann, Joel Basman, Mikkel Boe Følsgaard, Laura Bro
Director: Martin Zandvliet
Running Length: 110 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: Just when you thought all the good WWII stories had been told, along comes Land of Mine from Denmark. Nominated for Best Foreign Film at the Oscars, it may not have won the top prize or been richly promoted like some of its fellow nominees but it’s a handsomely made effort and a surprisingly memorable one at that.
It’s 1945 in Denmark and while the war is over the battle isn’t quite done. A crop of young Nazi POW’s are put to work removing the land mines from the coastal beaches and what a deadly task that turns out to be. Given basic training in locating and dismantling these mechanical booby traps, the young men are kept in rudimentary conditions and nearly starved to death by their captors. At first, they find little sympathy from their guard Sgt. Carl (Roland Møller), a patriot blistered by his hatred of all Nazis. Before he meets the boys his anger at the Nazi occupation is demonstrated in bloody detail when he beats a marching prisoner within an inch of his life.
Originally at odds within their own group, they begin to form some semblance of a bond once they are pushed to the brink by Carl and after several lose their limbs and/or lives. It doesn’t take a seasoned screenwriter to see the plot mechanics of writer/director Martin Zandvliet’s film and you can easily pick out who will avoid going kaboom and almost the precise moment Carl will soften. Still, strong performances go a long way to elevate Land of Mine away from territory so familiar we aren’t invested in the outcome.
Beautifully filmed by Camilla Hjelm with an unobtrusive score from Sune Martin, Zandvliet keeps you literally on the edge of your seat even as you wait for the inevitable to happen. As the boys crawl along the beaches and uncover bomb after hidden bomb, you start to let your guard down before reality explodes from below. To some, it may feel like easy retribution for what the Nazi party did to countless countries and their people, but Zandvliet makes it less about justified revenge and more about the tragedy of the entire situation on both sides. After all, many of these German POW’s were simple teenagers recruited from their homes and fighting a war they had no value or stake in…when they cry for their families and fallen friends it’s not easy to group them with the SS officers that set about exterminating much of the population in these European countries.
Entertaining but standardly so, it’s not hard to see why Land of Mine wound up in the top five lists at the Oscars just as it’s not hard to see why it didn’t have the full substance to take the award home. Very much worth a watch, though; just make sure you trim your nails before it starts or else you’ll chew them down during the more tense moments.