World War II remains a popular subject for serious films, in part because there’s so much material to mine (I’m sorry, but that’s not intended as a pun for this review). There are plenty of films that choose to focus on heroics, and some do a tremendous job with that. But what interests me more are the films that go onto terrain that’s not as frequently covered. Land of Mine, which served as Denmark’s entry in the Best Foreign Film race at this year’s Oscar ceremony, certainly touches on areas most films aren’t likely to go near.
With World War II over, German soldiers have surrendered to forces in Denmark. The nation faces a problem: the Germans planted active land mines along Denmark’s coast, in anticipation of Allied forces storming those beaches. To clear the mines, crews of young German POWs are tasked with clearing the mines, spending their days on their hands and knees, carefully searching for each mine and disarming them. They’ll receive no sympathy from the Danish people, and little in terms of food.
At one of these stations is Sgt. Rasmussen (Roland Møller), who’s shown in the opening scene beating a German soldier half to death as a long line of them march out of Denmark in defeat. Soon, he’s in charge of one of these amateur bomb squads, filled with boys who’ve barely reached adulthood. A few are given names, with some minor details about who they are, but as far as the Danish and Sgt. Rasmussen are concerned, they’re German soldiers. Period. And given their relative lack of training and the conditions they’re in, the film isn’t concerned about if the boys will survive – they all stand a greater chance of dying than not. Instead, the film tracks Rasmussen, to see how he’ll react once he comes face-to-face with the soldiers he’s been charged with overseeing. Is the anger he exhibited in the beginning all there is left for him, or is there any compassion he might feel for these soldiers?
Land of Mine‘s title is…a bit clunky and punny, which doesn’t fit the film that’s shown here. It’s a tough watch, based on a real aspect of war that isn’t always examined: the aftermath for the losing side. As much as ever, it’s easy to paint enemies on the other side of a conflict with broad strokes, and Land of Mine does an admirable job showing how those broad strokes can simplify issues that are more complex.