LAND OF MINE (Under sandet)
Sony Pictures Classics
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, Shockya
Grade: A-
Director:  Martin Zandvliet
Written by: Martin Zandvliet
Cast: Roland Møller, Mikkel Følsgaard, Laura Bro, Louis Hofmann, Joel Basman, Oskar Bökelmann, Emil Belton, Oskar Belton, Leon Seidel, Karl Alexander Seider, Maximilian Beck, August Carter, Tim Bülow, Alexander Rasch, Julius Kochinke, Zoe Zandvliet, Suri the dog
Screened at: Sony, NYC, 1/19/17
Opens: February 10, 2017

Prince Hamlet, who was Shakespeare’s most famous vacillator, might give theatergoers the impression that there is something indecisive about one tribe of Scandinavian people.  But when it comes to making decisions, there is nothing like a Dane.  The Danish government famously rescued almost of its Jews, its citizens carrying out perhaps the most famous act of resistance to Nazism by transporting its Jews to neutral Sweden in the middle of World War 2.  Years later, the Danish military carried out another bold plan, a violation of the Geneva Convention governing the treatment of prisoners of war.

“Land of Mine,” which quite justifiably made the semi-final Oscar list of best foreign films, is a stunning exploration of developments during the immediate post-war period.  Featuring a shattering performance by Roland Møller (“A Hijacking”) as Sgt. Rasmussen, Martin Zandvliet, whose 2009 movie “Applause” deals with a tough woman finishing rehab who must show that she has a soft heart, tells the story of an army man who also has a soft heart under a prickly temper.

The film demonstrates a reversal Stockholm syndrome. Instead of hostages’ with a sympathetic sentiment toward their captives, the kidnapper, so to speak, softens up after getting to know his hostages.  For a while, though, you’d not expect the sergeant to display anything but hatred toward his victims.  After the defeat of Germany in May 1945, the British transferred a small group of German prisoners to Denmark to allow the formerly occupied country to search out and defuse the thousands of mines planted along the Danish coast.  The Germans were sure that the allied invasion would begin there because of that country’s proximity to Berlin. The prisoners themselves, however, are unlikely to have anything to do with the mines and may even have finished the war without killing any of their own enemies as their age range seemed from sixteen to twenty-four. (Germany drafted both boys as young as thirteen and old men because of their need for soldiers.)

Rasmussen acts at first like a drill sergeant reminiscent of Vince Vaughn’s role as Sergeant Howell in “Hacksaw Ridge.”  He shows not a whit of sympathy toward the fourteen boys, who included a couple of twins (Emil Belton, Oskar Belton) and an assured would-be leader (Louis Hofmann).  At first he has the boys practice the defusing of mines, standing behind a wall with a stop watch, anticipating that at least one would be inept enough to get blown up.  He tells them when to go to sleep, how to talk to him (face him directly and shout “Yes, sir”), and to motivate them further promises to let them go home to Germany when the mines have been inactivated.  When one of the boys has his arms blown up in the sand (the Danish title of the film, “Under sandet” means “Below the Sand”), Rasmussen softens his tone and realizes that these youngsters have been treated unfairly and illegally).  Karin (Laura Bro), the one woman living in this desolate coastal area with her four-year-old daughter Elisabeth (Zoe Zandvliet—the director’s child?), takes pleasure at news of a bout of food poisoning suffered by the hated young Germans. But Karin will experience a change of heart not unlike that of Rasmussen.

Kudos to the production company for allowing us to see a little-known adventure, one not before captured by the huge array of World War 2 films.  The Danes, who surprised Hitler for resisting since he considered them racially equal to the Germans, are exposed in a bad light here for violating the well-known rules of war, exploiting mere boys in a most dangerous job when, in my view, they should have used seasoned German soldiers to remove the mines.  Some of the actors portraying the victims are enjoying debut performances, considerable credit going to writer-director Zandvliet for evoking an entirely credibly display of the sergeant’s softening as he gets to know his captives.

“Land of Mine” was filmed by Camilla Hjelm in authentic Danish locations, Vejers and Blåvand in the Danish North Sea Nature Park.  Aside from a brief interchange in English and a slightly longer exchange in Danish, the film’s dialogue is mostly German with English subtitles.

Rated R.  100 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – A
Acting – A-
Technical – A-
Overall – A-

By Harvey Karten

Harvey Karten is the founder of the The New York Film Critics Online (NYFCO) an organization composed of Internet film critics based in New York City. The group meets once a year, in December, for voting on its annual NYFCO Awards.

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