“Land of Mine” is a gut-punch of a remarkable film, but anyone with even a little sensitivity may not actually enjoy sitting through it. This fictionalized telling of teenaged German prisoners of war on a Dutch beach, their fingers shaking and their eyes wide with terror as they disarm live landmines, will have you on the edge of your seat but not in a good way.
It’s a horror story that unfortunately has its roots in reality and that sickening undertone, along with its brilliant, Oscar-nominated filmmaking, leaves a lump in your throat.
It’s 1945, and Germany has been defeated. Denmark is left with millions of landmines buried by the Germans. In what must be a total violation of the 1929 Geneva Conventions, 14 teen German POW’s are sent to clear the beach by digging up landmines with sticks on the West Coast of Denmark.
They are watched over by a Danish sergeant, played by a riveting Roland Møller. He is still enraged at what his country endured during the war, and at first he takes his frustration out on the boys in cruel treatment. But he realizes quickly they are tragic pawns of Hitler’s madness just as much as anyone, and the sergeant becomes an odd father figure to his charges on the isolated beach.
One would think this is a good thing, a warm fuzzy, but the tragedy of war intrudes everywhere in this movie. Writer/director Martin Zandvliet’s deceptively simple style of letting the events just unfold, with barely even a soundtrack or odd camera angle to foreshadow or clue us in, makes every single tragic event that occurs hit very, very hard.
The photography of the beautiful coastline is stark, as is the dialogue, in contrast to the bleak colors. The washed-out sea against the sand and sky sharply frames the close-ups of the boys’ faces as they witness horror after horror, and try to tell themselves they have reason to hope are emotionally exhausting.
There is a grisly, bloody violence in “Land of Mine” that is not for the faint of heart. It is not the quantity; it’s the shocking realism that may haunt you long after you’ve left the theater. Zandvliet makes sure you get to know the boys, get to care about them. You are on that beach right next to them, looking in their frightened eyes, feeling the sergeant navigate his conflicted emotions. The whole experience is terrifying, brutal and heartbreaking.
“Land of Mine” was nominated in 2017 for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, but lost out to the Iranian drama “The Salesman.” No offense to “The Salesman,” but Zandvliet was absolutely robbed. Although this movie is far from a “feel-good” film, it’s truly a “must-see” film, for what it leaves the (brave) moviegoer with—a reminder that a war fought between nations is really a war fought between people.
"Land of Mine"
3.5 stars (out of 4)
Starring: Roland Møller, Joel Basman, Louis Hofmann
Director: Martin Zandvliet
Running time: 100 minutes
Rated: R for war themes, graphic violence, mature content.
The lowdown: German prisoners of war are forced to clear the beaches of thousands of landmines in post-World War II Denmark.