Land Of Mine

***1/2

Reviewed by: Rebecca Naughten

Land Of Mine
"The randomness of death in times of war aside, Land Of Mine - perhaps unavoidably - leans towards the conventional in its overall narrative arc."

In 1945, after five years of Nazi occupation, Denmark faced the pressing issue of how to find and remove munitions and explosives that had been rigged - hidden beneath the landscape - by the now-defeated German forces. Someone, somewhere in the upper echelons of the Third Reich had evidently thought that the country's western coast was a likely site for an Allied invasion and 2.2 million landmines were planted throughout the Danish beaches and sand dunes. The morally dubious solution of the Allied forces was to use German prisoners of war to locate and defuse the explosive devices - Land Of Mine (Under Sandet) follows one such group of prisoners and their Danish military overseer, Sargent Carl Leopold Rasmussen (Roland Møller).

A military man to his core, Rasmussen's hostility towards the departing occupiers is made clear in the opening sequence where he beats to the ground a German soldier who has the temerity to be clutching a Danish flag as he is being marched out of the country. The film's international title is an obvious play on words in terms of landmines and land of mine(s), but it's also a reference to the strength of feeling that one's homeland can generate, especially after a long absence.

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Rasmussen's antipathy and bitterness only increase when he meets the prisoners assigned to clear a stretch of beach with 45,000 mines - they are barely men at all but boys still in their teens (in the case of a pair of twins - played by Emil and Oskar Belton - they are arguably still children) with little experience of war or bomb disposal.

This is both a reflection of historical fact - in the dying days of the war, the Nazis were reduced to conscripting younger members of the German population who therefore had minimal military training - but also a clever way for writer/director Martin Zandvliet to neutrally present perspectives from both sides. It is noticeable that there is no discussion of wartime activities or experiences - and no mention of Hitler or the Nazis between the boys - instead the focus is on what they will do when they are allowed to go home (they have been told that once they have cleared this beach they will be returned to Germany). This focus on the future - alongside their youth and 'political neutrality', for want of a better phrase - allows the audience to become invested in the characters as individuals (we learn of their hopes and plans) but also creates common ground between the boys and Rasmussen (who knows what it is to miss home).

But if Rasmussen's attitude towards his team gradually changes, this is by no means a gentle depiction of the aftermath of the war - if anything, it stands as a sharp indictment of the Allies' treatment of German prisoners. Quite apart from the questionable morality of using PoWs for the task, not all of the Allied officers are honourable men. Of the 10 or 12 Germans in the unit, the personalities of at least half are rendered distinguishable - with Sebastian Schumann (Louis Hoffmann) emerging as a co-lead alongside Rasmussen - but none of them are safe from the deadliness of their task (they have no protective clothing and defuse the bombs by hand). The film switches between sequences of high tension and out-of-the-blue shock tactics as the young men are brutally picked off one by one, putting the audience through the wringer and wreaking emotional devastation amongst the group.

The randomness of death in times of war aside, Land Of Mine - perhaps unavoidably - leans towards the conventional in its overall narrative arc. But this well-made production boasts solid performances from the ensemble - with Møller as the standout, as befits his role - and the film's originality lies in the uncovering of a little-known story from a cinematically familiar period of history.

Reviewed on: 09 Dec 2015
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In the aftermath of World War Two, the Allies used German prisoners of war to defuse and clear landmines from the Danish coastline.


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