Digging up the past
Danish-German film revisits dark chapter in post-World War II Europe
At first glance, Land of Mine, a Danish-German production set in the immediate aftermath of World War II, may look as though it’s a little too predictable and obvious in the seriousness of its drama. But it gains a special intensity from the fiery twists it applies to some of its seemingly blunt-edged topics.
The central story premise has an embittered Danish soldier, Sgt. Carl Rasmussen (Roland Møller) taking charge of a dozen or so young German prisoners of war who have been ordered to remove the myriad land mines planted on Danish beaches by the German army. It’s dangerous work, to say the least, and so fraught with lethal mishaps as to be a virtual death sentence.
To make matters even worse (and more agonizingly dramatic), the German POWs are mostly teenagers, youthful conscriptees rushed into uniform at the tag end of the German defeat. Most of them aren’t even fully trained as soldiers, and the only training they get on defusing land mines is what Sgt. Rasmussen gives them in the makeshift boot camp that precedes their first incursion, on hands and knees, onto a North Sea beach carpeted with land mines under a layer of sand.
Writer-director Martin Zandvliet takes all this in several intriguing directions. Any film with the WWII “Kinder Korps” in it automatically gets anti-war status, but Zandvliet complicates that matter in some interesting ways. In these events from the war’s immediate aftermath, for example, the German POWs are mostly kids stuck in some stage of immaturity, and the war-scarred Danish officers sometimes behave like stereotypical Teutonic stormtroopers.
Political and historical ironies get an extended workout here, but Land of Mine also presents itself as a low-key, serious-minded action movie. Zandvliet gives special attention to the inherently suspenseful defusing scenes, with results that are sometimes revelatory and other times maudlin.
Zandvliet’s film is at its best with matters of character, but there too it’s rather uneven. Sgt. Rasmussen’s evolving relationship with the young Germans is the most appealing aspect of the story, but the conviction of Møller may be all that holds the overall characterization together. The diversity of character among the young Germans is a strong point as well, although the characterizations themselves mostly remain rather sketchy.