Movie Review: 'Land of Mine'

John Thomas
Joel Basman, left, and Louis Hofmann in Martin Zandvliet’s “Land of Mine,” an Oscar nominee for best foreign language film.

Everyone has a shadow, sometimes the shadow becomes the person and sometimes not. The setting for the film is the west coast of Denmark at the close of WWII.  In the opening scene, Sargent Carl Rasmussen (Roland Møller) and his shadow are marching around the beach sticking black flags into the sand. These flags designate the location of known land mines. In the next scene he is speeding along in his Jeep towards a meeting with his superior officer Lt. Ebbe Jensen (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard) for his new assignment. Along the way, he passes a long queue of weary, defeated Nazi soldiers, making their slow journey towards home. He brakes suddenly, jumps out of his Jeep and verbally and physically attacks a young soldier, knocking  him to the ground, then begins kicking him. His shadow is beginning to lengthen.

He learns that his new assignment is to supervise a group of 14 soldiers. They are to clear the beach area of land mines buried earlier in the war by the Nazis who had anticipated a land invasion. If the 14 young men, barely 20 years age, manage to remove and defuse the thousands of mines buried in the sand, they will be allowed to return home. They have been given three months to complete the task.

There is no food for the Germans, they are barricaded in a shed at night, they work all day with the occasional bath from a garden hose, yet the boys work. They talk briefly of returning home, seeing family, getting jobs, meeting girls and eating. Carl’s shadow begins to shorten one day as he spontaneously snatches a basket of bread and potatoes from the camp kitchen to give to the boys. It becomes even shorter when he begins to realize that they too are victims of war even though they are German and hence were, but are not now, the enemy. 

A day off from working finds everyone at the beach playing soccer, including the almost shadowless sergeant and his faithful dog. His dog isn’t playing soccer but chases his much smaller ball into a supposedly cleared area - but one mine was left undetected. An explosion is heard and a long, dark shadow begins to reappear. Things resume their structured routine: probe for the mine, dig it up, defuse it and carry it to a pile for counting. Spirits raise a little as the mine count begins to reach the required total.

 As the four remaining boys are preparing to leave for home, the long dark shadow of Lt. Ebbe reappears with the announcement that an area of 72,000 mines has been discovered.  Because there is no map of their exact location, he is commandeering these four remaining soldiers to lead the search for them because of their experience. Much to the chagrin of Sgt. Carl (he had promised their return home), the young men march off to join the new group of  soldiers. A short time later the four boys are pulled aside and loaded into a truck and driven off.  Sargent Rasmussen has no shadow.

Martin Pieter Zandvliet (director), 1 hour and 40 minutes running time.




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