Land of Mine is technically a war film, but only elliptically. WWII is over, and instead of combat we follow Denmark’s German PoWs rinsing their army’s sins: removing innumerable landmines from the Danish coast. From this historical detail, writer-director Martin Zandvliet creates a mirror-image war flick where most of the action is internal and the victimised Danes may be the antagonists.
So often films resurrect largely unknown stories, but still capitulate to over-stated generic tropes; Zandvliet instead uses the understated nature of his subject – literally the cleanup after the main action – to comment, with complexity and clarity, on the real lasting implications of certain well-worn themes: heroism, patriotism – ultimately the morality of what we call loyalty.
Immediately though, much of Land of Mine is arm-flailingly, screaming-at-the-screen tense. The world feels eerie as the boys grimly brush sand off explosives; extreme closeups on faces, hands and pins are dastardly in their effectiveness. Under these conditions, you actually wince each time you connect with an actor’s face, fearing your own could get blown off. And it’s not just Zandvliet’s images: he carefully paints with time, here stretched out confidently as the viewer waits for disaster. The film is both intense and contemplative – far more so than Dunkirk and Hacksaw Ridge, two excellent recent war films that seemed to present thinkpieces on adrenaline but were, first and foremost, immersive actioners; delivered here is a complement to these louder films, asking a more elaborate series of questions, and presented tautly besides.
A war film for both genre aficionados and viewers who usually couldn’t care less, Land of Mine stands next to The Hurt Locker, another thoughtful, well-controlled, and frequently agonising tone-piece. This effortless picture is anchored by a barnstorming Roland Møller; he and his director juggle motives and expectations to alarming effect.
CAST: Roland Møller, Joel Basman, Louis Hofmann, Emil Belton, Oskar Belton, Oskar Bökelman, Mikkel Følsgaard
DIRECTOR: Martin Zandvliet
WRITER: Martin Zandvliet
SYNOPSIS: During World War Two, the Nazis placed millions of land mines along Denmark’s west coast. In 1945, after surrender and de-occupation, Denmark’s German Prisoners of War are put to work undoing the damage.