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A Film Diary

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Watched: 5 November

Oscar-nominated earlier in the year, Land Of Mine is an intense, pared-back drama about the clean-up of landmines on Denmark’s beaches by young German POWs at the end of the Second World War. I say ‘pared-back’ because much of the action takes place in just two locations: either on the vast expanse of sand hiding thousands of ‘Bouncing Betty’ S-mines, all previously placed there by the Wehrmacht, or inside the POWs’ temporary home – a cramped wooden cabin. And there’s certainly an obvious contrast between these two places; on the wide open beach – a place ordinarily associated with freedom and fun, of course – the young boys are forced to carry out their dangerous work, which ends up claiming the lives of some of the characters, while the tension and stress caused by their situation eventually leads to arguments, fights and mental breakdowns, most of which are depicted as happening within the claustrophobic confines of their living quarters.
In reality, around 2,000 German POWs were made to carry out the clean-up of the beaches, but this story concentrates on a small squadron of a dozen or so young men responsible for a small-ish stretch of coastline. They are led by the Danish Sgt Rasmussen (played impressively by Roland Møller), a compelling character whose attitude to his charges fluctuates throughout the film, as time passes and various tragedies occur. None of the German characters or the actors portraying them stands out to a similar extent, though director Martin Zandvliet’s decision to emphasise the group over the individual, and the bond that forms between the prisoners, is to the benefit of the overall piece. At times horrifying, at times vaguely hopeful in the way it depicts brief moments of post-war cooperation and reconciliation, and often tense. (***½)

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