Land of Mine (sandet)
1 hour 40 minutes, R for extreme bodily mutilation.
Fair Value of Land of Mine: $9.00. It falls in a middle range of films about ordnance disposal, better than The Hurt Locker but not as good as Bravo Two Zero.
The Summer Camp from Hell: To the innocents are bequeathed the ruin of war. A part of the aftermath of World War 2 was the usage of conscripted German POWs for the disposal of mines and explosives along the Atlantic Wall, in which nearly a thousand POWs died. It was one of the minor punishments, a casual cruelty which is barely a footnote in history today.
In the summer of 1945, Sergeant Carl Rasmussen (Roland Moller) returns to his homeland of Denmark after fighting in the British Army. He is tasked with supervising a unit of German POWs to clear a beach of an estimated 50,000 mines. Of the twelve he gets, not a one of them is older than 18- a motley collection of Hitler Youth. They are terrified and confused, the last conscripts of a dying Wehrmacht. It is from them that Denmark shall extract a pound of flesh, to avenge the invasion and occupation of their country.
These boys are expected to clear the land of mines with nothing more than a knife, a stick, and their bare hands. The Danish army fully expects casualties- and for each one that dies, another bewildered replacement quickly arrives.
The film is a minimalist study in humanization and dehumanization, as Rasmussen tries to strike the right balance between camaraderie and command, and as the boys try to maintain their sanity in the face of what amounts to a very slow death march. In that regards, Land of Mine evokes The Lord of the Flies or Europa, Europa! In being about the fracture and social structure of a bunch of frightened teenagers in a situation of extreme deprivation.
At the same time, Rasmussen must battle against the complete indifference of the Danish army and the Danish population, who are quite happy to deny the POWs even minimal rations, and who are more concerned with clearing the land on schedule than in the number of casualties.
Land of Mine has a fault only in the dramatic pacing of the casualties, falling on the old cliche that explosions only happen when everybody is relaxed and past the apparent crisis. But other than that, it is acute in suspense, making you feel every shiver and twitch of the grime faced boys as they crawl through the sand.
Director Martin Zandvliets cinematography of Land of Mine is full of austere beauty, both alluring and repellent, with the sounds of the shore working as a contrast to the quiet desperation of the young men. Overall, Land of Mine is a film that leaves you wanting to know more about every character, and leaves you gritting your teeth in anticipation. T Francois Truffaut was wrong; you can make an anti-war film. But to do so, you must show that the echoes of battle carry long after the cannons have ceased, and that the strife falls randomly and with no compassion to the consequences.