Land of Mine: a dark chapter in Danish history
by Vittoria Scarpa
- Martin Zandvliet’s film is the painful story of a group of German teenage prisoners forced to demine the beaches of Denmark at the end of the Second World War
What’s left behind after a war? Hate and mines. The opening scene of Land of Mine [+see also:
interview: Martin Zandvliet
film profile] by Danish director Martin Zandvliet shows visceral hate for the invader straight away. The year is 1945 and we’re in Denmark, a few days after the surrender of Nazi Germany. A Danish soldier kicks and beats German soldiers he passes in the street. “Get out, this is my country!”, he shouts. The mines, on the other hand, are those that these German soldiers, prisoners of war, are forced to disarm: the mines that Germany planted all along the Western coast of Denmark believing that the Allies would land there. One of the most eagerly awaited and discussed films at this year’s Toronto Film Festival, and now in the Official Selection of the 10th Rome Film Fest, Land of Mine portrays a very dark episode in Danish history, an unknown, secret story that you won’t find in school history books. Because a good part of the some two thousand prisoners forced to clear the Danish beaches for months on end (there were over 2 million mines), were aged between 15 and 18 years old: teenagers that couldn’t wait to go home to embrace their mothers and eat good food. But only half of them made it home alive.
When it comes down to it, Denmark’s actions, according to the British authorities, constituted a war crime: the Geneva Convention (1929) prohibited the employment of prisoners in dangerous activities. But those soldiers were deemed as having “voluntarily surrendered to the enemy”, allowing the law to be circumvented. Zandvliet’s film portrays this historical drama in a dry, tension-filled and remorseless way. Fourteen teenagers are hurriedly trained to disarm anti-personnel mines and then taken to a magnificent white sandy dune-filled beach, where they are forced to stay for no fewer than three months to finish their work. Driving them is Sergeant Rasmussen (Roland Møller), a man full of bitterness for the Germans after five years of occupation. The conditions are inhuman, food is in short supply, and the slightest distraction can prove fatal. The idyllic setting hides death at every turn. The camera gives us close-ups of these kids, their youthful, beautiful faces, captures their emotions and plans for the future. Meanwhile Sergeant Rasmussen’s inner torment, hidden behind his violent ways and unforgiving military armour, grows every day. “You tricked me, you should have told me they were just kids!”, shouts his captain, Ebbe (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard), relentlessly cruel. Here the monsters aren’t the Germans, but the Danish army.
Land of Mine shows us what happens after a war, it’s a story of survival and of forgiveness and redemption, of rediscovered humanity. The cast of young actors is faultless, and very dramatically powerful: among them are Louis Hofmann (who played the leading role in Tom Sawyer [+see also:
film profile]), Joel Basman (winner of the German Film Award for Best Supporting Actor this year for As We Were Dreaming [+see also:
Q&A: Andreas Dresen
film profile]) and twin first-time actors Emil and Oskar Belton. The film was shot almost entirely during the day, the warm light of the sun (the photography is by Camilla Hjelm Knudsen) offsets the gloominess of the story. We spend the entire film with these teenagers, hoping that they make it home as soon as possible. For once, we’re gunning for the Germans, because a group of teenagers shouldn’t have to pay the price for an entire nation’s mistakes. Even if we already know that this is exactly what happened.
(Translated from Italian)