Land of Mine
A worthy nominee for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2017 Academy Awards – and, in a just world, the silver medalist behind fellow also-ran Toni Erdmann – Martin Zandvliet’s Land of Mine takes the inherent breath-holding suspense of defusing explosives and elevates it with exceptional writing, acting and direction.
Inspired by the post-WWII footnote of young German soldiers forced to clear the Danish coastline of the mines their countrymen laid in anticipation of the Allied invasion, the film centers on Sgt. Carl Rasmussen (Roland Møller) and his command over one such unit of POWs.
An introductory scene in which the officer bashes an enemy’s face for carrying around a Danish flag suggests similar consequences – if not worse – should those under his watch step out of line, adding to the barely adult men’s already hellish mission on the nearby beach.
Of the 14 soldiers, Zandvliet gives roughly half of them distinguishable traits, more than enough characterization to invest in their struggles. Better yet, he varies the ways by which one seemingly straightforward threat can cause problems and films them all in distinct manners that add significant artistry to an already tense situation.
Indeed, Land of Mine is an extraordinarily good-looking film with each frame lit to where the muted color palette exudes a pleasing smoothness. Amidst this bleak but promising environment, Rasmussen develops a grudging, gradual respect for his former oppressors, though true to the moral complexities leading up to that shift, different things occur to challenge the sergeant’s melting prejudices as well as refreeze them.
Where the shared experiences take him and the POWs is both surprising and not, but it always feels true. For this unflinching honesty and the concerted effort that produced it, Zandvliet’s film is a must-see.
Grade: A-minus. Rated R. Now playing at Grail Moviehouse
(Photo: Sony Pictures Classics)