An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis
In all my years of slipping off to movies, I have never experienced anything like Land of Mine, a Danish story set in 1945 when the Danes forced German prisoners to search for and dismantle mines buried on the beautiful beaches of their country.
In the first scene, the Danish sergeant in charge displays his brutality with a force that silenced the theater for the full length of the film. After that there was not a sound in the theater. The natural expectation had been that it would be the good guy Danes vs. the bad guy Germans. That’s far too easy for this extraordinary study of what happens when men acquire the power of life or death over others, especially when the power shifts from one side to the other.
By assigning just twenty German boys to clear all the buried mines on just one beach, the movie becomes a graphic lesson of brutality unleashed on a personal level, a lesson in what war does to individuals. It is crafted so beautifully that it’s a safe bet that few stray thoughts came to anyone in that theater. Is anyone unaffected? No one moved when the lights came up and when they did, they lingered in the hallway, clustered in shock.
The monstrous Sergeant Carl Rasmussen (Roland Moller) has complete control over twenty young German soldiers, the skinny adolescent boys who were pulled in as the German ranks shrank as the war wore on. Under the sergeant’s brutal treatment, they crawl the beaches on their bellies as they stab the sand with probes. When the probe hits metal, they scrape the sand with their hands and unplug the fuse – unless it blows up. As if to confirm our broken assumption of the goodness of the Danes, we learn that the sergeant’s superiors are equally brutal. When we see flashes of decency in the sergeant, we realize again what war has done to him.
With rare skill, the film deals with what happens to those we think of as the good guys – here the Danish military who feel free to exact vengeance on the Germans who caused WWII, complicated by the fact that the enemy soldiers in this case are German schoolboys.
Those beautiful beaches became a field of death for Danes during war and for Germans post war. Both the Danish military and the German boys are acted with conviction so strong that it is no accident that we find ourselves astonished that our sympathies can shift at all.
When a movie is this overwhelming, the critical questions it raises become absorbing and the primary one is why, after centuries of wars that have killed millions, do men still sit around tables discussing war as a solution to disputes? This mighty film screams “Is there no other way?” Credit writer/director Martin Zandvliet with forcing us to think about that question. And credit the Danes for addressing both sides of it.
Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : Land of Mine
Word Count : 493
Running time : 1:40
Rating : R
Date : 17 March 2017