Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the last Academy Awards, Land of Mine (also known as Under sandet) is a disturbing, disquieting & devastating cinema that’s inspired from the immoral & inhuman acts that the Danish authorities perpetrated against German POWs, majority of whom were teenagers, following the end of the Second World War in Europe.
Set in post-World War II Denmark, the story of Land of Mine follows a Danish Sergeant who is assigned the duty to defuse & remove over 2 million mines that were buried by the Germans along the coast during the war. Receiving a batch of teenage Germans POWs to carry out the operation, the Sergeant’s initial hostility towards them begins to undergo an unexpected change.
Written & directed by Martin Zandvliet, the film opens with a crucial sequence that establishes the seething hatred that the Sergeant has against Germans and takes it up from there. Every segment featuring the young boys trying to defuse the mines with their bare hands despite being obviously ill-equipped to carry out the dangerous task is nail-biting as hell and even more hard-hitting when they fail at it.
Zandvliet’s direction exhibits terrific restraint from start to finish and how he handles the characters & their arcs is even more admirable. Without choosing a side, he puts believable people on screen and keeps all their human attributes in tact, whether they are Danish or Germans. And while the hostile nature of the former against the latter is understandable, what the Danish authorities force them to do is equally inexcusable.
Shot at historically authentic locations, the entire picture is splendidly photographed and the era of Denmark recovering from the war is wonderfully captured by its desaturated & earthy colour tones. Camerawork is handheld, static & expertly controlled for the most part and allows the scenes to play out at their desired pace but the longer it lingers on the defusing process, the more suspenseful it becomes and, majority of the time, ends on a heartbreaking note.
Editing is skilfully carried out, for every single minute of its 1½ hour narrative is accounted for & is relevant to the plot. Every sequence on the beach is compelling & handled with patience and every explosion or casualty reverberates with the audience & the impact of it is deeply felt. The film does feel longer than its runtime but it is relentlessly gripping till the end. And further enhancing its grim aura is the poignant score that always surfaces on time.
Coming to the performances, Land of Mine features an incredibly committed cast in Roland Møller, Louis Hofmann & others, with Hofmann impressing the most. Møller is in as the Sergeant overseeing the mine clearing operation and expresses his character’s inner conflict brilliantly while Hofmann plays one of the young boys performing the fatal, endless task of defusing thousands of buried mines with stunning balance, and the scenes between the two are the film’s highlight.
On an overall scale, Land of Mine not only ranks amongst the best films of its year but is one of the finest films to come out from Cinema of Denmark. Incessantly human, powerfully moving & making a strong statement about what makes us human & why it’s even more important to hold on to that part in times of bitter conflict, this Danish masterpiece is an extremely riveting example of its genre that treads a difficult path & is utterly discomforting at times yet manages to fully redeem itself in the end. An essential viewing by all means, Land of Mine comes very highly recommended.