By Nick Boyd
“Land of Mine” is a harrowing and moving German and Danish film. It is based on the true story of young German soldiers (many of whom were teenagers) who were forced by Danish authorities at the end of World War II to remove the more than 2 million mines that the Germans had placed in the sand along the coast.
The German soldiers are put in the care of a Danish sergeant named Carl Rasmussen (Roland Møller), who at first has no sympathy whatsoever for them. Over time though, he begins to slowly warm up to them because he begins to see them as real people rather than as merely anonymous prisoners. It is a really strong performance and Rasmussen makes it more than simply a tough sergeant role. He even resorts to doing things for the young men that may not be right, but that he feels in his heart is the right thing to do, compassion-wise.
The movie is reminiscent of the best picture winning “The Hurt Locker,” where soldiers in both are put in charge of deactivating explosive devices and the stakes are very high. The tension is able to build over time.
Even though these are German soldiers, the young actors convey a sense of innocence that puts us on their side. They do not at all come across as evil or cunning; they simply want to get back home to their families. Their leader is Sebastian, played by Louis Hofmann, who takes charge of the group.
The movie is exceedingly well-done, where one false move could prove fatal. Even in a seemingly innocent game of football on the beach, the audience is on edge because of the nearby land mines. Not only is the picture acted and written on a high-level, but the cinematography is first-rate as well.
Compassion and loyalty are themes that are effectively explored in the picture. One would think that there would be no way that the Danish sergeant could ever have any compassion for these soldiers, knowing what he knows of the German ideological mindset at the time. However, this hardened sergeant after seeing these boys do hard labor day in and day out and realizing through his interactions with them and getting to know them to an extent that they are pure at heart feels ultimately that they do not deserve the predicament that they have found themselves in. Loyalty plays a part insofar as whether the sergeant should back his country or the soldiers. And as things play out in the film, the decision becomes a complex one.
Bringing to the surface a fascinating little known chapter of World War II history, the film engages us both intellectually and emotionally.