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.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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July 2024