Taut, tense and morally aware

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM REVIEWS - DON­ALD CLARKE

LAND OF MINE ★★★★ Di­rected by Martin Zand­vliet. Star­ring Roland Moller, Louis Hof­mann, Joel Bas­man, Mikkel Boe Fols­gaard, Laura Bro, Zoe Zand­vliet, Mads Ri­isom. 15A cert, limited re­lease, 101 min It’s a small thing, but we should prob­a­bly get that aw­ful English-lan­guage ti­tle out of the way first. Un­der Sad­net (lit­er­ally “Un­der the Sand”), a tense Dan­ish drama that was nom­i­nated for best for­eign-lan­guage pic­ture at this year’s Os­cars, comes to us as Land of

Mine. It con­cerns Ger­man pris­on­ers of war clear­ing land­mines. Get it? Was there no­body around to stop this?

Any­way, Martin Zand­vliet’s film, though shame­lessly ma­nip­u­la­tive, proves to be a taut af­fair that of­fers an in­ter­est­ing con­trast with Christo­pher Nolan’s Dunkirk. Whereas that wartime drama, set a few hun­dred miles to the south, rev­elled in noise, ef­fect and com­mo­tion, Land of Mine em­ploys tra­di­tional char­ac­ter arcs and creep­ing ten­sion. It is not al­ways sub­tle. But it works.

The pic­ture plays clev­erly with our ex­pec­ta­tions by ini­tially po­si­tion­ing the Al­lied com­man­der as the vil­lain and the young Ger­mans as the he­roes. We be­gin with Dan­ish Sergeant Carl Ras­mussen (the ex­cel­lent Roland Møller) rip­ping his coun­try’s flag from de­part­ing oc­cu­piers and sav­agely bark­ing them back across the bor­der. He has been charged with com­mand­ing a pla­toon of young Ger­mans as they pluck hun­dreds of mines from a long stretch of beach. He wal­lops them. He makes it clear he cares not if they die. He re­fuses to give them food.

We never learn what per­sonal trau­mas have chis­elled away all em­pa­thy, but he is clearly ex­act­ing some sort of re­venge. The men are pa­thetic, fright­ened and largely com­pli­ant.

We sus­pect some soft­en­ing will takes place. It does, but Møller is suf­fi­ciently in com­mand of the role to make his even­tual mod­er­a­tion seem be­liev­able. More prob­lem­atic are the ar­ray of emo­tional cliches that lit­ter the drift to un­der­stand­ing. Yes, when Ras­mussen and the boys become friends, they re­ally do play a game of foot­ball. There’s a lit­tle girl with a dolly. There’s a dog. Land of Mine is so ramped up with ten­sion that those com­pro­mises are un­likely to nag un­til after the cred­its have rolled. Eco­nomic, im­pec­ca­bly acted and im­pres­sively aware of the moral co­nun­drums -- when do wars re­ally end? – the pic­ture is, de­spite its grim sub­stance, a crowd-pleaser of the tra­di­tional school.

Roland Møller in Land of Mine

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