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Land of Mine - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Land of Mine
Directing: B+
Acting: B+
Writing: B
Cinematography: B+
Editing: B+

Much has been made recently of how easily the dangers of rising fascism are ignored when there are so few people left who still remember the effects and aftermath of it in the mid-20th century. The United States, in an official capacity if not yet in popular opinion, seems increasingly guilty of this, while many European countries smartly continue to pay heed to these lessons.

Such is the case with the sobering film Land of Mine, a film financed by two countries that were once enemies: Denmark and Germany. There have been so many films about World War II, it can be easy to forget how many untold, or under-told, stories remain. This one takes place just after the end of the war, five years of Germany occupancy just ended in Denmark.

We've long been conditioned to be cognizant of the horrors perpetrated by Nazis, and rightfully so, but also at the expense of keeping in mind what horrors were committed by countries of all sides. The thousands of Japanese citizens killed by atomic bombs are well known, but there are other examples as well. An unfortunate part of Denmark's history involves them using a couple thousand German boys, teenagers, to sweep their beaches for German mines and disarm them by hand.

It's notable that in writer-director Martin Zandvliet's film, these boys are only ever referred to as Germans -- never as Nazis. We are meant to think of Nazis as the enemy, but not necessarily Germans -- even though the Danish people in this film certainly equate them. The historical record shows that some half of these woefully unskilled boys either died or were seriously injured by these mines, which were laid there years earlier by their countrymen but not by themselves. It should come as no surprise that this issue is the source of some controversy in Denmark, with some claiming either that the Germans had no rights and were thus treated as they deserved, or that they were not actually treated as badly as some say; and others saying it qualifies as the greatest war crime in the nation's history.

Land of Mine clearly leans toward the latter perspective, and zeroes in on just one group of young German men, clearing a section of beach near a young woman farmer who has a little daughter. They are supervised by a Danish sergeant who detests them as much as any other Dane. In the opening scene, we see him fly off the handle and beat a German boy who happens to have been carrying a Danish flag.

As the story wears on, the sergeant develops some sympathy for these boys, who, as he later puts it to a superior, "Haven't a clue." The official counter-argument is that it doesn't matter: they are Germans. And indeed, this story is clouded and put into a gray area by the notion of what true atrocities these kids' parents likely did commit, and what sorts of values they likely learned from them. But, as presented here, they are just a bunch of kids in over their heads.

It should come as no surprise -- it's not exactly a spoiler -- that a large number of these kids die in this story. It's what makes Land of Mine often so very hard to watch: these kids crawling across the sand, poking into it to find buried mines, some of them exploding at regular intervals for various reasons, but never knowing exactly when it will happen. This is a movie that challenges us to feel sympathy for characters when we clearly don't know for sure whether they deserve it. Or maybe sympathy and forgiveness are always options, even when there are dangerous and morally ambiguous unknowns? There is a lot more at play than the surface simplicity of the story being presented might suggest.

Land of Mine is a truly suspenseful film if that's what you want to get out of it, but is also a challenging film if you allow it to be. It's one of those kinds of movies that are hard to recommend, though, because it's hard to watch, but worth seeing.

German boys are forced to put their lives on the line to diffuse German-laid mines in LAND OF MINE.

Overall: B+
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