The English title’s silly pun aside (the actual Danish title, Under Sandet, translates to “Under the Sand” – so much better), Land of Mine offers fantastic insight into a post-war period rarely seen on screen.
Written and directed by Martin Zandvliet, Land of Mine – finally getting some much-deserved attention following its nomination for the Best Foreign-Language Oscar – is set in post-WWII and tells of the German POWs sent to work on the beaches of Denmark to remove (by hand) active landmines placed there by German forces. We follow a very young group of soldiers lead by a hard-nosed Danish Sergeant, Carl Rasmussen (Roland Møller), as he watches over the boys, who it seems are destined to work on the beach until their deaths.
Like most films that deal with explosives, Land of Mine is fortunate enough to have inherent tension throughout (The Hurt Locker comes to mind). On top of a constant white-knuckle level of tension, the film is balanced out by a strong character study and wonderfully crafted, emotional relationships that push the film from good to great.
While the through line is tense enough, the grunt of the story relies mostly on the emotional relationships formed by the soldiers and their Sergeant. Starting out as an unsympathetic, brutal man (the opening scene has him beating a German soldier to a bloody pulp), the hatred Rassmussen feels towards the prisoners in his charge becomes almost understandable. After all, these are soldiers of the Third Reich he is dealing with, men that were ordered to do unspeakable things to his country and to his people. The audience is pulled into Rassmussen’s journey, as he grows with these men and comes to find these soldiers under his command are little more than children, fearful for their lives and missing their home.
Møller puts in a strong performance and is very well supported by a young cast, who are all impressive as men with their own relationships and emotional turmoil doing their best to stay alive amidst horrible circumstances.
This is a fantastic portrayal of a little-known story not seen before on the big screen. It’s rare for a film to deal with subject matter that actually requires the audience to sympathise with the German story around wartime; Danish filmmaker Zandvliet clearly recognises the errors made by Denmark in pushing children (potentially as young as thirteen) to clear landmines on their beaches.
Land of Mine is a strong, tense picture, and thoroughly deserves to be in the conversation this awards season.
THE REEL SCORE: 8/10