One of the greatest pleasures of being a film critic is stumbling upon a work of pure cinematic art that will rock your world and stay with you forever. I just had that experience with the Danish Oscar Nominated film “Land of Mine” which I feel is one of the best films I’ve ever seen IN MY LIFE. And it was totally unexpected, so it had tremendous shock value. Including suspense that didn’t let up, once it started. And I LOVE suspense. It’s so hard to create a real thriller diller, and I can’t tell you how sick and tired I am of World War II movies. But “Land of Mine” blew all those preconceptions about war movies totally out of my head. I couldn’t stop watching it. I was on the edge of my seat, to the point where I felt like was STANDING, perched mid-air agog at all the atrocities of war crimes that were being perpetrated on this group of young German POWs, aged 15-18.
The premise is staggering, and it’s also true. That the Germans planted something like two million land mines on the beaches of Denmark, where they thought the alllied forces were going to land first. They never did, thank god! Or they would’ve been blown to smithereens, as many of these hapless young boys, and others, are during the course of this brutal, but brilliant film.
The Danish director/writer Martin Zandvliet is new to me, but his talent is up there with the greats. And so is his great co-collaborator Camilla Hjelm Knudsen, DFF, who is his wife and cinematographer. “Land of Mine is filmed on a beautiful, pristine beach, where there is no civilization in evidence to spoil the view, except the roiling blue of the Atlantic Ocean.
Danish actor Roland Moller is superbly frightening as one of the most sadistic villains the screen has ever seen.He is constantly yelling at his captives in both guttural Danish and German. Telling the boy soldiers that this fate is just what they deserve, being Germans. He never lets up and he never feeds them.
Zandvliet is smart enough, as a screenwriter, however, to give him multiple dimensions. His Captain Rasmussen is simply a solider doing this dreadful duty as part of his job. And while he loves being a soldier. we come to see he hates the horrifying assignment he is tasked with.
He has to make these teenage German P.O.W.s (This is right after WWII. ends), clear the nearly two million land-mines that are on that beautiful, wind-blown beach. And the boys, of course, do not know how to do this at all. They have no training whatsoever, and are completely lost in every imaginable way possible. Some of them are crying for their mothers
And yes, many of them are blown to bits. The lucky ones die. And Rusmussen keeps cruelly telling them, that whenan they clear the beaches of these deadly land mines, they will be sent home. They are more apt to be sent to heaven.
But Zandvliet plays his cards very close to his vest, and never lets us, the audience, know WHEN it’s coming, though we know WHAT’s coming. And he surprises us at every turn.And of course, it’s more horrifying than you could possibly imagine.
The boys start off as faceless, pale, ghostly figures, seemingly dead already, but as they film goes on several of them begins to emerge as three-dimensional characters as Rasmussen does. There are two twin brothers who are heartbreakingly protective and dependent on each other.They are both astonishingly first time actors, Emil and Oskar Belton.
A very complex wise-guy who looks almost Jewish is played grippingly by Joel Basman. There is one compelling scene where he is constantly being slapped in the face. And astonishingly he starts off laughing, and he keeps being hit and hit and hit again, until well, he is crying. Reduced to tears by the brutality of this violent assault. And dirty and foul-mouthed and repulsive as his behavior is, Basman just kills you, If this was an American film, he’d be nominated as Best Supporting Actor.
It’s wonderful that this horrifically violent but beautiful film has managed with very little fan-fanfare to land an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film in a very crowded, competitive year, it is hardly being talked up at all. It’s up to audiences to discover it and I’m sure they will. They never will be able to forget it. “Land of Mine” is one of the greats.
#Land of Mine, #German, #Best Foreign Film Nominee, #War Film, # Boy Soldiers, #Martin Zandvliet,# Twins