Land of Mine (aka Under Sandet) review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Following the fallout of World War II, the German prisoners of war were handed over to the Danish for a most difficult task. In a punishment the government believes is just, the Germans are forced to remove active mines from the West Coast that were originally placed by the Germans. It’s a dangerous job and death lurks around every step on such an explosive former battlefield. There are two million mines. There are no tools for removing them. It is practically a death sentence.
Land of Mine is a disturbingly contemplative film in how it asks the question of how far revenge can go after such atrocities and hatred. The act proposed by the Danish military is unquestionably immoral and inhuman but the film doesn’t need to amp up much of the very act itself to see the cruelty. The film mostly follows the Danish Sergeant in charge of the operation where the POWs he is assigned are mostly teenagers; teenagers that he will have to lead to their likely deaths.
The teenagers are woefully ill-equipped to handle the situation, both in that, they don’t have experience with diffusing mines or have the safety tools to do so. This leads to the teenagers into tense and life-threatening situations daily of using their bare hands to dig out the mines. If they succeed, that’s one more mine down with hundreds of thousands to go. If they fail, one less German POW the Danish may not care much about.
The film at the historic sites in Denmark with a certain haunting nature to fathom how this situation in 1945 proceeded. Writer/director Martin Zandvliet takes great care to make sure that his film highlights the cruelty of such a situation but also presents it from a place of brewing hatred in the era. You can see this in the beginning of the film when it’s established that Danish Sergeant has a deep hatred of the Germans but will have to come to terms with that hatred when faced with placing prisoners in such an inhumane situation. The longer the situation on the beach lingers, the more questioning even the most enraged of the allies becomes of the cruelty that only seems to cycle more with such an act than it does resolve.
The editing is also sublime for finding just the right moments to hold on and let the tension linger. There’s more than enough time within the film to both take in the terrors of such operation and also think a lot harder about the nature of the inhumanity at play. The performances of the young actors are all stellar considering the range of emotions expected.
Land of Mine was nominated for the Academy Award of Best Foreign Film and rightly so. It’s a deeply thoughtful film on the nature of post-war actions and how much we question our own thirst for revenge, trying to comprehend when it’ll ever be quenched. As far as war movies go that showcase the fallout of combat, this is by far one of the better films for its highlight on breeding cruel punishments for a younger generation, questioning how much of it will carry over into the future.