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Land of Mine Movie Review

Land of Mine (2017) movie poster Land of Mine (Under sandet)

US Theatrical Release: February 10, 2017 (Danish Release: December 3, 2015) / Running Time: 100 Minutes / Rating: R

Writer/Director: Martin Zandvliet

Cast: Roland Møller (Sgt. Carl Rasmussen), Louis Hofmann (Sebastian Schumann), Joel Basman (Helmut Morbach), Mikkel Boe Følsgaard (Lt. Ebbe Jensen), Laura Bro (Karin), Zoe Zandvliet (Elisabeth), Mads Riisom (Soldier Peter), Oskar Bökelmann (Ludwig Haffke), Emil Belton (Ernst Lessner), Oskar Belton (Werner Lessner), Leon Seidel (Wilhelm Hahn), Karl Alexander Seidel (Manfred), Maximilian Beck (August Kluger), August Carter (Rudolf Selke), Tim Bülow (Hermann Marklein), Alexander Rasch (Friedrich Schnurr), Julius Kochinke (Johann Wolff), Aaron Koszuta (Gustav Becker), Levin Henning (Albert Bewer)

It seems like there's always a film about World War II competing for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards.
This year's nominee was Land of Mine, a gut-wrenching Danish-German drama written and directed by Martin Zandvliet.

The film is set in 1945, the immediate aftermath of the war. Young German prisoners of war are assigned to defuse mines buried along the West Coast of Denmark. These are boys, not men. The eldest appear to be in their mid-teens. The youngest are probably around 12. A group of fourteen is charged with uncovering and disarming thousands of mines buried in beach sands. They report to Sergeant Carl Rasmussen (Roland Møller), who shows these youths no sympathy and is determined to keep them on their three-month schedule.

As you can imagine, this is perilous work. Land of Mine features the kind of tension that made The Hurt Locker so riveting. One boy blows himself up during training. Others do the same later. One survives the explosion with his arms and legs turned into bloody monstrosities. As if that wasn't bad enough, the boys are also malnourished. At one point, they get sick after stealing what they think is food from a nearby barn. It's rat poop.

Sgt. Carl Rasmussen (Roland Møller) shows little mercy publicly for the German boys he oversees at disarming mines in "Land of Mine."

Sergeant Carl shows no mercy...until he steals some bread and vegetables for them. In time, he's even giving them a day off and playing soccer with them on the beach. But despite these glimpses of compassion and humanity (and the stands he secretly takes against his commanding officer),
he remains a madman, whose greatest grief involves a dog who tags around him.

Land of Mine punches you in the gut repeatedly, although at least it isn't as relentlessly bleak and zoned-in as last year's Foreign Language winner, the Hungarian Holocaust drama Son of Saul. Zandvliet's film calls your attention to a footnote of European history few probably know about and it breaks your heart in the process. That for me gave it more impact than two of the category's fellow nominees, albeit the two I experienced at home rather than the big screen.

Despite the Oscars' penchant for acknowledging this pivotal 20th century conflict, pundits and prognosticators indicated that Land of Mine was trailing the frontrunners Toni Erdmann and The Salesman. In fact, the latter won, its victory inviting to be read as something of a political statement against President Trump's controversial Muslim country travel ban. Even without the Oscar, though, Land of Mine is a powerful drama you should see, if you can stomach it.

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Reviewed March 3, 2017.



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