One of the finalists in this year’s Oscar contest for best-foreign-language film, Martin Zandvliet’s mesmerizing drama focuses on teenage soldiers during the last days of World War II. Rating: 3.5 stars out of 4.
Denmark’s recent Oscar nominee for best foreign-language film, Martin Zandvliet’s “Land of Mine,” lost the award to Iran’s much-praised “The Salesman.” Nevertheless, the Danish film is no afterthought, no minor event, but a strong film on its own.
It is set on the west coast of Denmark in May 1945, when German teenagers were recruited to dismantle 1.5 million land mines on the beaches. Some developed a knack for bypassing the traps, some were lucky and some weren’t. Some chose not to live.
Movie Review ★★★½
‘Land of Mine,’ with Roland Moller, Louis Hofmann, Joel Basman. Written and directed by Martin Zandvliet. 110 minutes. Rated R for violence, language and some grisly images. In English, German and Danish with English subtitles. Seven Gables.
It’s a mesmerizing tale of postwar rage and waste and indecisiveness, propelled by a brutal Danish sergeant, Carl, who vengefully punishes the kids. Gradually he recognizes their humanity, feeding them and helping them get through several traumatic episodes.
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This may sound formulaic, but it doesn’t play that way, thanks to Roland Moller’s persuasive performance as Carl and the open-ended nature of the finale.
Zandvliet is a relatively young and inexperienced director, but his spare use of music and widescreen images is assured and even inspired. The teenage actors are exceptionally well-cast, while the adults make the most of supporting roles.
The script for “Land of Mine” is based on a true World War II story that sounds like a Danish rehash of Bernhard Wicki’s Swiss-German 1959 classic, “The Bridge.” Both movies emphasize fateful decisions at war’s end. Wicki’s boys choose to defend Hitler’s regime just as it is falling apart. Zandvliet’s kids essentially have no choice.