It’s 1945, the end of the second World War and we are in Denmark, just as the Germans, who had occupied the country for some five years, are leaving.
What they are leaving behind are some 2.2 million landmines along the coast, where the Germans expected the Allied invasion to occur.
Angered at this, the Danish government kept some 2,000 German POW’s back and forced them to clear the beaches of the landmines their countrymen had laid. Most of them were just boys.
Land Of Mine tells the story of a group of boys at a remote beach not far from the German border. They are kept in check by the angry Sgt. Carl Rasmussen, Roland Moller (Atomic Blonde, A Hijacking), who hates the Germans and is annoyed to find that, come time for some payback, he’s left with a bunch of young boys.
The boys are quickly taught about mines and how to disable them, some more successful than others, and then they begin clearing the beaches, some more successful than others.
They are given no food and no sympathy should one of them make a mistake. Rasmussen flips between angry and cool as he comes to realise these boys aren’t so different after all. They have hopes and dreams, they cry for their mummy in times of need and they have ideas too.
The boys are just scared and want to go home. Some think they never will, others hold onto the dream. In reality, it’s estimated that about half of the 2,000 died or were severely injured.
Writer and director Martin Zandvliet (A Funny Man, Applause) has found himself a little nugget of a story here.
Unknown to most, but regarded as one of the worst war crimes ever committed by the Danish state (the Geneva convention forbids forcing POW’s to do dangerous work), he builds a story around it wonderfully.
The acting by Moller and all of the boys is exceptional, particularly as most of them had never acted before. But, naturally, it’s the story itself that will really get you thinking.
As Zandvliet himself has said, usually when you see a war film, the Germans are the bad guys. With Land Of Mine, you don’t know what involvement these young-boys have had in the war up to this point.
All you see, is that they are being forced to clear landmines on a beach in Denmark. As a human, you of course feel sorry for them. It’s dangerous work and I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say not all of them will make it in one piece.
On the other hand, they were the enemy, the invaders, the ‘bad guys’. Whilst you are wrestling with your conscious over this, Zandvliet ramps up the tension with the landmines.
You know some are going to explode, you know people are going to die. What you don’t know is who or when. In the beginning, when they must diffuse their first live landmines, I watched from behind a cushion. I’ve never done that before, but the tension was palpable.
You find yourself cringing whenever a landmine is being cleared, even when they are just in shot. If you have a bad heart, this might not be the film for you.
There are a few niggles to mention. The movie has an extremely ‘clean’ feeling to it. This is supposed to be at the end of the war, yet the beaches are lovely and white, there’s not a trace of any war anywhere. It can feel a little sterile at times.
Also, some of the incidents or plot points are a little obvious. Particularly as the film moves on, it becomes clearer and clearer what’s going to happen.
That said though, Land Of Mine is a fantastic film, with tension to spare. It’s easy to see why it was considered for best foreign language film at the 2017 Oscars.
As for the DVD, there’s not a great deal on it; five interviews and the trailer, though the interviews are interesting and the quality of the movie is superb, with English subtitles.