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Land Of Mine
Germany 2016
Directed by Martin Pieter Zandvliet
Running time 101 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Chris Thompson
3.5 stars


Synopsis: After the Nazi surrender in May 1945, a unit of young German POWs barely out of their teens are put to work by their Allied captors defusing and removing the hundreds of thousands of landmines still buried on the beaches along the western coast of Denmark. With minimal training from the sadistic Lieutenant Ebbe Jensen (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard), they are placed under the supervision of a righteous and embittered Danish Sergeant, Carl Rasmussen (Roland Møller). With a palpable hatred of the Germans after their five-year occupation of his country, Rasmussen with his dog Otto (Suri) marches the boys out to the dunes each day to perform this risky task. Isolated from everything except a lonely farmhouse occupied by a widowed mother, Karin (Laura Bro) and her daughter Elizabeth (Zoe Zandvliet), they are starving and frightened but their only hope of being repatriated to Germany and their families is to finish the job. As the work continues, Rasmussen finds himself with unexpected compassion for the boys, especially the pragmatic Sebastian Schumann (Louis Hoffman), the defiant Helmut Morbach (Joel Basman) and the innocent twins, Ernst and Werner Lessner (Emil and Oskar Belton).

From the moment in the opening scene when Sergeant Rasmussen leaps from his jeep and drags a bedraggled German soldier from a column of POWs being marched along the road and brutally and bloodily beats him for having souvenired a Danish flag we are in no doubt about this character’s fierce patriotism and his willingness to use violence against what he thinks is wrong. He’s a hard man, a force to be reckoned with, a scary character. This, of course, makes his journey from hatred to compassion all the more compelling and, for the most part, this powerful film handles that theme with sensitivity and a strong sense of humanity. Yes, some of the moments that cast Rasmussen’s hard and unflinching attitudes into sharp relief are contrived and over-emotive but we’re prone to forgive this in the face of the more genuine moments of emotion and empathy of which there are many. That, and Møller’s gripping performance.

As a group, the young soldiers are well cast and their characters are well drawn. Far from being unified themselves, they are riven by differences of opinion on how to interact with their tyrant of a commander, how to deal with the punishing conditions under which they are being held and how to face the terrifying task that awaits them each morning. It’s the deadly promise of this task that pervades the film. I have to say that I’m rarely squeamish in horror films or films that depict graphic and gory acts of violence, but bomb defusing scenes - especially land mines - are my Achilles heal. I sweated through much of The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow 2008) and found myself biting my white knuckles through a lot of this movie. The scenes of their shoddy bomb disposal training and the enormous, relentless task of clearing the beach are constructed with a fine understanding of how tension is built and shot in a way that makes for moments of harrowing anticipation.  You know it’s going to happen… you just don’t know when - nor whether it will be in the close up or the long shot. I’m getting cold sweats just thinking about it.

The film excels in these moments of gripping tension and is at its most compelling in the scenes where the impenetrable walls between the captor and the captives are breached and something akin to a father-and-sons relationship is achieved. Where it weakens, though, is in the somewhat contrived and implausible ending that plays more to the heartstrings than it does to the grit of reality. It’s disappointing when such a strong film squibs it at the end.

 

 

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