Well, the 3rd entry in my Scandinavian Film Festival series here, and this is probably the most “mainstream” movie that’s come up yet. By “mainstream”, I don’t mean “has explosions, superheroes and Samuel L. Jackson”, but I mean that it feels like a movie that could have been made by a Hollywood studio in Oscar season. Well, except for one key difference – this is a movie that is sympathetic to German soldiers and POWs… in World War II. And it’s entirely justified in doing so.
Under sandet, or Land of Mine, is set in Denmark directly after the completion of the 2nd World War. Germany lies in ruins, and Denmark is celebrating after enduring far too long under the enforced rule of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party. Surviving German soldiers are taken into custody as prisoners of war, and a deal is struck. The Germans must disarm the remaining land mines that litter Denmark’s beaches. Once that job is done, the Germans can go home to their families. The film follows one such group of German POWs. Under the eye of Danish sergeant Carl Rasmussen, a small group of young German soldiers get to work combing the beach for mines and disarming them. But these soldiers aren’t battle hardened Nazis spitting vitirol about the superiority of the Aryan race. These are kids, who had the misfortune of being born in the country that lost the War. As the film goes on, Sgt Rasmussen comes to the same conclusion, and begins to feel the pain along with his young prisoners as the work becomes more and more dangerous.
The way this film is set up is very reminiscent of a couple of better known films. Some of the musings on the cost of war feel like they could have been from a discarded draft of Speilberg’s Saving Private Ryan, and the disarming of the mines themselves definitely uses a lot of the same visuals as Katheryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker. So if you’re a fan of either of those films, I definitely recommend checking this one out. But it’s the tension that makes this film stand out from the pack. You’ll be staring at a screen for nearly two hours constantly holding your breath, as young men that you’ve come to know through fleshed-out character driven storytelling fumble with shaky hands attempting to disarm mines that were designed to be as difficult as possible. And even in the few moments of serenity that you get, nobody is safe.
Here’s what a family would look like watching this film. And if you’re this exact family, don’t watch this film together. Those kids are way too young for the grim reality of war. Isn’t there an Angry Birds movie out? Watch that, for Pete’s sake. Everyone else, watch Land of Mine though.
It’s also incredibly well-acted, with Roland Møller a stand out for me as Sgt. Rasmussen. He portrays both a kindly father figure who understands these young men and their plight, while at the same time showing the confliction he has whenever he remembers that these same young men and their countrymen occupied his country by force, and made life a living hell for the citizens, no doubt. A special mention too, to Emil Belton, whose character goes through some of the toughest challenges of all the young men, and who portrays his characters pain with heartbreaking realism.
3.8/5 – A greater than average war film that should leave any fan of the genre satisfied.
Well, there’s always an exception I suppose…..