Over the years I have learnt that if you choose to attend a film festival, don’t waste time going to see the big (or even middle) budget Hollywood movies. Whether you have to wait a couple of weeks or a couple of months, most of these movies will eventually be on wide-release.
In the case of foreign films though, that period of waiting can be much longer. In fact, there are films I have seen in 2008 that still haven’t been released in the UK! (Looking at you Quick Gun Murugun!)
In the case of Land of Mine, I was insanely lucky to see this German/Danish co-production at the 2015 London Film Festival. It may have been a two year wait, but god damn it people, it was worth it.
The year is 1945. World War II is over. But the impact of the Nazis war machine still reverberates throughout Europe. Approximately 1.5 million landmines are buried beneath the vast beaches of Denmark, the endless sand acting as a perfect camouflage.
Sgt. Rasmussen (Roland Møller), a veteran of the Danish army, has been tasked with supervising their removal. Forced to undertake the actual mine disarmament are several German POWs. Made up of mostly teenagers conscripted in the death spasms of the war, the prisoners and their captor have no love lost between them.
But as the stress and danger of removing these hidden devices start to take their toll, the question of whether it’s even possible to survive such dangerous work becomes ever more paramount.
The humiliation of the enemy is something that has echoed throughout history. Whether it be on an international scale, such as the terms imposed on Germany in the Treaty of Versailles; or on a more macro level, such as the repulsive photos of torture taken in the bowls of Abu Ghraib.
In this aspect, the Oscar-nominated Land of Mine leans more towards the personal. With an almost pathological abnormality, we see Sgt. Rasmussen take it upon himself to make the lives of 14 German boys as miserable as possible.
Making no secret of his utter hatred for his young charges, Møller plays his role with such an intense streak of loathing, that he comes perilously close to becoming the very Nazi that he professes to hate so much.
But such a portrayal makes it all the more apparent how easy it is for someone to tip into depravity. That line, between good and evil, that most of us feel is as clear as day, is actually razor thin in reality.
Such villainy is all the more disturbing when taking into account the relative innocence of his charges. From the natural leader, Sebastian (Louis Hofmann), to the baby-faced twins, Ernst and Werner (Emil and Oskar Belton); each terrified boy is a reflection of innocence and revenge coming together in an utterly inhumane clash.
Such strong performances are guided by the experienced hand of writer-director Martin Zandvliet. In his third theatrical feature, Zandvliet tells a troubling and controversial story, but one that brings to the fore the complexities of post-war attitudes towards your former enemies.
Alongside cinematographer Camilla Hjelm Knudsen, Zandvliest isn’t afraid to juxtapose an increasing number of heart-pounding sequences with the idyllic summer beach setting. As his camera sweeps along the many sand dunes and never-ending ocean, you can’t help feeling that this is hell at its most beautiful.
Das Boot may have been tension-filled, Saving Private Ryan may have been brutally realistic, Downfall might have been eye-opening, and The Pianist was probably tragedy at its most distressing.
But none of these films come close to the careful blend that Zandvliet has put forward in Land of Mine. Every actor, every scene, and every word is evidence as to how hard cast and crew worked to bring this harrowing true story to the silver screen.
But more than anything else, Land of Mine is a testament to how fragile human decency can sometimes be. It shows how easily we can fall victim to our base desires, as well as our need to blame others for our pain and suffering. And in our 2017 world of immigrant-blaming and gender-hating, what could be more relevant?
Land of Mine will on limited cinema release and VOD in the UK from 4th August.