Even though seventy years have passed, compelling stories from World War II and its aftermath keep surfacing onscreen. Land of Mine is a fictional film inspired by an inherently dramatic real-life situation: during their occupation the Nazis planted more than two million land mines along the coast of Denmark. At war’s end, the Danish commandeered young German POWs to remove and defuse these mines.
The film focuses on one man, a sergeant (Roland Møller) who despises the Germans for what they did to his country during their five-year stay. He is placed in charge of a squadron who live in near-squalor near an enormous beach where, it’s estimated, it will take three months of nerve-shattering work to rid the area of mines.
In time he comes to see that these soldiers are preposterously young and bear no responsibility for what occurred during the war and occupation. His colleagues frown on him showing the Germans any sympathy or even acknowledging their basic needs.
Any story about bombs has suspense built into it (remember the British TV series Danger UXB?), but writer-director Martin Zandvliet doesn’t overplay his hand. The beauty of Land of Mine is in its straightforward approach. The sergeant’s conflicted feelings make him a highly relatable figure by today’s standards as well as those of the 1940s.
I was reminded, more than once, of the enduring 1930 classic All Quiet on the Western Front, which not only features Germans as protagonists but includes a memorable scene in which plain-spoken sergeant Louis Wolheim wonders why the leaders of squabbling countries don’t just duke it out amongst themselves instead of sending young men to do their dirty work on the front lines.
Land of Mine, which overseas bears the title Under the Sand, is a provocative drama that poses timeless questions. It’s easy to see why Academy voters chose it as a contender for this year’s Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.