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Friday, June 16, 2017

Land of Mine

I have now seen every feature film that was nominated for an Oscar at the 89th shindig; the last one is the Danish submission for Best Foreign Language Film, Land of Mine. The Danish title translates to "Under the Sand," but for some reason they decided to throw in a bad pun for the English-language title.

Because the subject is mines. Land mines. We are in Denmark, just after the war. The occupying German forces have left. Prisoners of war, most of them boys conscripted late in the war, are forced to clear the beaches of mines left by the Germans, who thought that might be the spot for the Allied invasion. They crawl on their bellies, poking a stick ahead of them. Once the mine is found, they must gingerly de-activate it. Half of them will die or lose a limb or two.

Right away we are thrust into an interesting situation. Is this ethical? Moral? On paper it would seem so. Why should Danes risk their lives to clear German mines? This is certainly the attitude of the Danish command. They are watched over by a tough as nails sergeant (Roland Moller), who tells the boys he does not care if they die or starve (they don't have much food). There are about a dozen Germans, and they aren't delineated much--there are a pair of twins, and one who seems to be the smartest, who tries to engage the sergeant in discussion.

Eventually Moller begins to see the boys as people. He gets them food, even gives them a day off to play soccer. But the mines are out there, waiting, and tragedy will strike.

Land of Mine, written and directed by Martin Zandvliet, is at its heart nothing we haven't seen before--that all men are brothers, and that uniforms are a funny way of telling each other apart. It shows the folly of blaming farm boys for atrocities they had nothing to do with, and how the gruffest of men can soften (he owns a dog, so he can't be all bad).

But despite these familiarities, the subject matter is unique, and the tension gripping. I think even if I managed to make it through that ordeal the sight of a beach would be very unwelcome--I'd be afraid to step anywhere. Moller gives a very good performance, and Louis Hofmann, as the most visible German, is also good.

Just don't put a pun into a movie that is this serious.

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