Thursday, February 16, 2017

Movie with Abe: Land of Mine

Land of Mine
Directed by Martin Zandvliet
Released February 10, 2017

War takes a devastating, irreversible toll on any nation, all the more so if battles take place domestically. Coming out of a conflict, particularly one that lasted many years, is a harrowing challenge, and the road back to normalcy and prosperity can be very long, with plenty of casualties along the way. The balance of power in previously conquered countries can also shift dramatically, leading to a drastically transformed way of life that proves to be stagnant and miserable for all involved.

At the end of World War II, German prisoners-of-war in Denmark are kept in the country and put to work combing the beaches for the more than two million mines planted by their fellow soldiers during the war. Sergeant Carl Rasmussen (Roland Møller) is the Danish commander in charge of a group of fourteen very young German soldiers who quickly come to understand his authority and power. They are not fed, they are locked in a barn to sleep every night, and Sergeant Rasmussen regularly tells them that he hates them and does not care if they die. The stakes are enormously high as mines can – and do – detonate on a regular basis, costing these terribly young, seemingly innocent boys their limbs and their lives even after the war has ended.

“Land of Mine” begins with a powerful scene in which Sergeant Rasmussen sees a German soldier marching with a Danish flag and beats him up, taking the flag and carrying to it to the beach, defiantly declaring, “This is my land!” That’s where this film’s strong double-meaning of a title comes in, as the Danes struggle to reestablish their own national identity. Much of it has to do with dehumanizing the Germans they felt had done the same to them, and it’s only through time and experience that Rasmussen, who still remains gruff, begins to see that these are just children thrust into a conflict they couldn’t possibly be blamed completely for who have ended up in a horrific situation.

“Land of Mine” is a serious, compelling film about the aftereffects of war that is far from showy. Its production values are high, and its shots of the vast beach lined with many unknown threats and littered with prisoners of war seeking to literally clean up their mess are extremely effective. Møller is terrific, delivering an uncompromising turn as a man who believes firmly in what he is doing. The entire supporting cast is superb, with Louis Hoffman and real-life twin brothers Emil and Oskar Belton standing out for their contributions as memorable captured soldiers. This film is gut-wrenching, and feels real and vital. It’s certainly the best among this crop of Oscar nominees for Best Foreign Film and very much deserves to be seen.


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