Land of Mine, written and directed by Martin Zandvliet, was both a morally and emotionally challenging film. Throughout the entirety of Land of Mine, I was questioning myself and what I deemed right; considering the abhorrent acts of a country and its people. Those questions and the challenging thoughts it brought before me, made for a compelling, engaging film that very deservedly got nominated for ‘Best Foreign Language Film’ at the 2017 Academy Awards. I’ve wanted to see this film for some time and now I’m eager to talk about it in this review – so let’s get to that.
Based upon real events, where after World War 2, German POWs (Prisoners of War) were forced to clear Denmark’s coastline of nearly 2-million landmines. We follow a group of 14 young boys, who under the watchfully aggressive rule of, Sergeant Carl Rasmussen – played by Roland Møller – must clear a section of the beach that contains 45,000 landmines alone. It is a tension inducing affair, with an under-current of poignancy and heart.
Land of mine was a film where I felt mentally tested, at all times. Tested in what I think and tested in how I’m feeling, in response to the morally charged circumstances. The people tasked with the impossibly dangerous, and high-mortality rate job of clearing the mines from the beaches, are German soldiers. They fought and defended the tyrannical rule of Nazi Germany and all that it condoned. They invaded countries – Denmark being one of those countries, and the people of those countries suffered greatly. They should be punished, they should be made to pay for their actions, their choices, and help re-build the countries they played a part in tearing down.
Or at least, this was how I felt in the beginning, when I was first introduced to the situation and the characters within it. I mean, they are teenage boys after all. Boys who were possibly forced to join the army and fight for a country that needed any able-bodied person to fight for it and to try to hold back inevitability – losing. They’re young and probably didn’t fully understand what they were fighting for. To give them such a task and treat them so poorly… surely that was wrong?
I’m not sure. Even now, as I sit here and write this, I’m still not 100% sure. On one hand they’re still developing boys who may have made a mistake, but on the other hand, they fought for Nazi Germany, so to say it us unfair, or cruel, would be hugely insulting to all the people whose lives were forever changed and irreparably damaged by the pure evil of Nazi rule. This film left me conflicted. But that in no way detracts from how brilliant the film is, because it is one that will certainly stay with me.
And the element of Land of Mine that causes all of my conflicted feelings, and forms this powerful experience: is the dynamic between, Sergeant Carl Rasmussen and the 14 boys he is tasked with overseeing. To say it is a difficult one, would be an understatement. It is what drives this film and it would be a failing on my part, if I didn’t break it down and explore it.
Starting with the force that is, Sergeant Carl Rasmussen. Roland Møller who plays him, makes his presence known and dominates any scene he is in. With his broad shoulders and his intimidating demeanour; he is a man who you can’t take your focus away from. But he’s more than just a physically imposing person; there’s much to him that isn’t overtly said but imagining, only intensifies the power of the character. He’s a man who has clearly served his time at war and paid the price (mentally). There’s a rage within him (a justifiable one) but it’s a constant that is bubbling up in every scene and it doesn’t take much for it to come exploding out.
But it’s hard to properly imagine what Sergeant Rasmussen must have went through during his time at war; what he must have seen… what he must have had to do… who he may have lost. And so considering things like that only deepens how compelling of a character he is. Despite his unwavering cruelty (in the beginning) he was a man who I sympathised with infinitely, and he was the most meaningful aspect of the film for me – especially because of how he grows and evolves over the course of the film.
And it’s the dynamic between him and the boys that helps to re-shape him. The bond and the care that slowly builds between him and the Germans he one despised, was a primary factor in me beginning to shift how I looked at them and what I thought of them. If he could begin to change his opinion of them; look at them, not as German soldiers, but as frightened boys who simply want to go home, then surely so could I?
There was this thought that came into my head as I watched the bond slowly form between, Sergeant Rasmussen and the boys and it had to do with the importance of a father. Particularly during that time in history, those young boys were far more likely to have lost their father or not seen him since he went off to war; so as things progressed, Sergeant Rasmussen almost seemed to fill that role for some of them; Sebastian Schumann – played by Louis Hofmann – in particular. That only motivated me more to look at these boys as more than what their uniforms showed them to be. I’ll say it again: this film was forever challenging my preconceptions, and I found that made the experience extremely rewarding.
And of course, one of the largest factors in changing my opinions of the boys, were the performances of the nuanced characters. As you can imagine, the boys go through some real hardships when clearing mines. Death or dismemberment is an inevitability for many of them and hearing their screams… their cries for their mother’s is beyond heart-breaking. I commend all the actors in the film who do an incredible job of tapping into some dark places and pulling out some powerful performances.
The last point I want to make doesn’t have to do with the morally challenging aspects of the film; rather it has to do how completely tension inducing the film is at times. As you can imagine, the quiet, suspenseful moments in which a mine is being safely neutralised, are moments in which you should be expecting to clench every part of your body, as you wait for a possibly messy, distressing outcome. It never got easier, and as I cared more for the boys who had to do it, the tougher it got. But it is so well done, from a filmmaking aspect – the film holds you in the palm of its hand and toys with you often.
I was expecting good things from this film, but I was not expecting it to be as mentally involving as it was. To be challenged like I was, was so very satisfying and at all times engaging.
And so, I obviously recommend, Land of Mine. It is a sombre, poignant film that I found to be extremely important; primarily because of the story it tells and how well it tells it – and on a number of levels was an eye-opening experience. Please make the time to see this film, as it is totally worth it.
I’d love to know what you thought of the film and my review of it, so please leave any opinions or feedback, etc. in the comments section down below. If you’re interested, you can follow both my blog and my Twitter – @GavinsRamblings. But I’ll finish up now by thanking you for taking the time to read my review and I hope you liked it enough to return. Have a wonderful day!