×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Land of Mine’

A little-remembered chapter from WWII's immediate aftermath in Denmark is dramatized in this potent and accomplished feature.

With:
Roland Moller, Louis Hofmann, Joel Basman, Mikkel Boe Folsgaard, Laura Bro, Zoe Zandvliet, Mads Riisom, Oskar Bokelmann, Emil Belton, Oskar Belton, Leon Seidel, Karl Alexander Seidel, Maximilian Beck, August Carter, Tim Bulow, Alexander Rasch, Julius Kochinke. (German, Danish dialogue)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3841424/combined

A little-remembered chapter from WWII’s immediate aftermath in Denmark is dramatized in “Land of Mine.” Martin Zandvliet’s third directorial feature is a tightly focused narrative that can hardly help but build considerable tension and poignancy, given that it centers on Axis boy soldiers forced to remove still-live land mines that their side left behind at war’s end. Chosen as the kickoff feature for the Toronto Film Festival’s new juried Platform section — which Piers Handling’s stage intro defined as dedicated to “bold, innovative, challenging films from mid-career and emerging filmmakers” — it should parlay good reviews into decent sales among discerning offshore distribs and outlets.

When five years of German occupation come to an end in May 1945, Danish Army Sgt. Rassmussen (Roland Moller, “A Hijacking”) vents his pent-up rage on two unfortunates among the hoards of Nazi soldiers retreating homeward on foot. At least they’re headed away from him; not so lucky are the dozen assigned to his command for the next three months or so. Their job could hardly be more onerous, or perilous: neutralizing and removing some 45,000 landmines the Nazis planted on a local beach, among more than 1.5 million scattered along Denmark’s western coast in anticipation of Allied invasion.

So dangerous is this task that one of the POWs doesn’t even survive their brief training before they begin in earnest. Other mishaps will inevitably further winnow the ranks, though the Germans cling to the promise that if they survive, they’ll be sent home. Rasmussen makes no secret of his loathing toward the enemy combatants and his indifference to their fate — including their immediate starvation, as occupiers at the bottom of the priority list for scarce supplies. No friendlier is the woman (Laura Bro) whose beachside farmstead they’re camped in, though her little girl (Zoe Zandvliet) is too young to understand why these strangers should be shunned.

They’re probably closer to her age than Rasmussen’s, in any case: These Nazis are just boys who were recruited late in the war to bolster the dwindling Axis ranks. None appears to be on the far side of 20 yet, including natural leader Sebastian (Louis Hofmann) and cynical malcontent Helmut (Joel Basman). Others, like inseparable twins Ernst and Werner (Emil and Oskar Belton), look barely ready for high school. Even the hardened Rasmussen can’t withhold all compassion from these terrified, homesick youths forever, though at a nearby base camp his sneering superior, Cap. Ebbe (Mikkel Boe Folsgaard), proves more pitiless.

There’s a faint sentimental predictability to the thawing of relations between captor and captives, as well as to the accident that refreezes that dynamic before a later redemptive turnabout. But Zandvliet’s script and direction avoid milking an innately loaded situation for excess melodrama or pathos, sticking to a discreet economy of approach that accumulates considerable power. Despite numerous explosions, just one is portrayed in gory detail, its horrific impact arriving early enough to effectively shadow the more restrained depictions of tragic violence that follow.

Though the opening and closing onscreen text underlines this obscure historical chapter as a human-rights case (it arguably violated international laws regarding treatment of POWs), “Land of Mine” is essentially apolitical, showing that at a long war’s end, both sides are simply embittered and exhausted. The German boys are sacrificial lambs very far from the criminal decision making of their Nazi superiors, while the Allied military and Danish citizens here struggle to regain any sense of empathy after five years’ occupation.

Though Zandvliet chooses to focus on a few principal personalities rather than dimensionalize all the characters here (several of the Germans never quite become distinct figures), performances are strong down the line. Very good assembly is taut while eschewing hyperbole, with notable contribs from editors Per Sandholt and Molly Malene Stensgaard; Sune Martin’s cimbalom-flavored score; and Camilla Hjelm Knudsen’s somber-hued lensing, which alternates between handheld immediacy and handsome landscape shots.

This accomplished feature should heighten its writer-director’s stature, though it does nothing to identifiably narrow his interests or style: A few returning key collaborators aside, there’s little here that one might connect to his deliciously prickly Paprika Steen-starring debut, “Applause,” let alone the glossy showbiz biopic “A Funny Man.”

Film Review: 'Land of Mine'

Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Platform), Sept. 10, 2015. Running time: 101 MIN. (Original titles: "Under Sandet" / "Under den Sand")

Production: (Denmark-Germany) A Nordisk Film Production and Amusement Park Film in association with K5 Intl. presentation. (International sales: K5 Intl., Munich.) Produced by Mikael Chr. Rieks, Malte Grunert, Executive producers, Henrik Zein, Torben Majgaard, Lena Haugaard, Oliver Simon, Daniel Baur, Stefan Kapelari, Silke Wilfinger.

Crew: Directed, written by Martin Zandvliet. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Camilla Hjelm Knudsen; editors, Per Sandholt, Molly Malene Stensgaard; music, Sune Martin; production designer, Gitte Malling; costume designer, Stefanie Bieker; sound, Johannes Elling Dam; sound designer, Rasmus Winther Jensen; re-recording mixer, Lars Ginzel; casting, Simone Bar.

With: Roland Moller, Louis Hofmann, Joel Basman, Mikkel Boe Folsgaard, Laura Bro, Zoe Zandvliet, Mads Riisom, Oskar Bokelmann, Emil Belton, Oskar Belton, Leon Seidel, Karl Alexander Seidel, Maximilian Beck, August Carter, Tim Bulow, Alexander Rasch, Julius Kochinke. (German, Danish dialogue)

More Film

  • China's 'Three Adventures of Brooke' to

    China's 'Three Adventures of Brooke' to Hit French Theaters (EXCLUSIVE)

    Midnight Blur Films has signed a deal with French distributor Les Acacias to release Chinese arthouse drama “Three Adventures of Brooke” in France this year, the Chinese production company told Variety on Saturday. A release date has yet to be set for the film, which premiered at the Venice Film Festival and stars Chinese newcomer Xu Fangyi [...]

  • Noe Debre On His Directorial Debut,

    Top French Screenwriter Noe Debre Makes Directorial Debut, ‘The Seventh Continent’

    This last half-decade, few French screenwriters have run up such an illustrious list of co-write credits as Noé Debré. Thomas Bedigain’s writing partner on Jacques Audiard’s Cannes Palme d’Or winner “Deephan,” Debra co-penned Bedigain’s own debut, “The Cowboys,” “Racer and the Jailbird,” by Michael Roskam, and “Le Brio,” directed by Yvan Attal. He has now [...]

  • Julien Trauman Talks Survival-Thriller Short ‘At

    Julien Trauman on Survival-Thriller Short ‘At Dawn’

    France’s Julien Trauman has never been afraid to play with genre, and in his latest short, the MyFrenchFilmFestival participant “At Dawn,” he employs aspects of psychological thriller, survival, coming-of-age and fantasy filmmaking. “At Dawn” kicks off the night before when a group of teens, one about to leave town, are imbibing heavily around a beach-side [...]

  • ‘Flowers’ Director Baptiste Petit-Gats Interview

    Baptiste Petit-Gats: ‘Editing Taught Me How to Write for Film’

    France’s Baptiste Petit-Gats is an hyphenate that keeps himself plenty busy editing, photographing, writing and directing. The bulk of his editing gigs up until now have been in documentary film work, evident in the way he shot and edited his own short film, participating in the MyFrenchFilmFestival, “Flowers.” In the film, Petit-Gats tells the heartbreaking [...]

  • Fanny Litard, Jérémy Trouilh on ‘Blue

    France’s Fanny Liatard, Jérémy Trouilh Discuss MyFFF Suburban Fable ‘Blue Dog’

    French filmmakers Fanny Liatard and Jérémy Trouilh met at university while studying political science before diverging towards separate careers. Trouilh trained in documentary filmmaking; Liatard worked on urban artistic projects in Lebanon and France. They eventually joined back up to film three shorts: “Gagarine,” a Sundance Channel Shorts Competition Jury Prize winner in 2016; “The [...]

  • MFFF: 'The Collection' Director Blanchard Readies

    'The Collection' Director Emmanuel Blanchard Readies First Feature

    Paris-born Emmanuel Blanchard studied and then taught history before becoming a documentary filmmaker responsible for films such as “Bombing War,” “Le diable de la République” and “Après la guerre.” He’s currently directing “Notre-Dame de Paris”, a 90-minute animated part-doc, part-fiction film on the building of the world-famous Paris cathedral. Competing at MyFFF, “The Collection” is [...]

  • Dragon Ball Super: Broly

    Film Review: ‘Dragon Ball Super: Broly’

    Late in “Dragon Ball Super: Broly,” the 20th Japanese anime feature in a 35-year-old franchise that also has spawned scads of TV series, trading cards, video games, mangas, and limited-edition collectibles, a supporting character complains, “I don’t understand a single thing you’ve said the whole time.” If you’re among the heretofore uninitiated drawn to this [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content