We first see Sergeant Rasmussen barking orders at a line of young, dispirited German prisoners of war. The Second World War has ended and the Danes have ordered German soldiers to clear the Danish coastline of millions of land mines planted there by the Nazis. Rasmussen’s reaction to seeing one of the POW’s carrying a Danish flag is to beat him to a merciless pulp, revealing the pent-up frustration and fury at the German occupation of his country. With his mustache and shrill shrieks, we get a subliminal reference to the Fuhrer who started WW II and we quickly understand that this is a movie that will unsettle our certain feelings about winners and losers and heroes and villains.
The 14 young soldiers under Rasmussen’s command are teenagers, obviously drafted by the Nazis towards the end of the war. Their adjustment to the brutal demands by the Sergeant has been seen before in other war films, most recently in Hacksaw Ridge. Despite the familiarity of this set-up, we feel our own tension mount, not letting up until much later in the film which is as much about the conversion of Rasmussen as it is about the fate of his charges. Their job is to clear the beach of thousands of mines after which they will have earned their discharge and be sent home. His job is to regain his humanity and relate to these German boys as people, not the hated enemy.
The success of this film resides in writer/director Martin Zandvliet’s ability to transcend the sanctimony of the previous sentence and manage to bring everything down to a very differentiated and personal set of relationships between the young men and the Sergeant, the young men among themselves and the Sergeant and his Commanding Officer. The very real tension of live mines capable of exploding at any moment adds a layer of suspenseful fear and tragic ramifications of the war even after its conclusion. No matter how many WW II movies you have seen, this is a searing and original story that most of us were not aware of. Zandvliet deserves enormous credit for sustaining the drama of the individuals as well as the moral and humanistic issues that resonate from their predicament. Land of Mine is one of the Oscar nominees for best foreign film - I give it my vote and hope it wins. Don’t miss it.
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