“Land of Mine” offers a vision of purgatory as a wind-swept beach on the North Sea, where German POWs in the immediate aftermath of World War II are forced by the Danish soldiers in charge to dig for and defuse millions of land mines.
It’s a despairing portrait of an epilogue to the war from writer-director Martin Zandvliet and the loneliness and regret permeating the movie illustrate eternal truths about the lingering consequences of such massive destruction on the everyday individuals tasked with carrying it out.
Danish Sgt. Carl Leopold Rasmussen (Roland Møller) is tasked with overseeing the efforts of a squadron of teenage German prisoners as they search for the deadly devices, day after day, for months on end.
The movie, which is nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at this year’s Academy Awards, finds sworn enemies gradually learning to appreciate their common humanity amid immense existential danger.
It’s spare and unrelenting, a film of silences punctuated by bursts of horrific violence, a picture filled with righteous anger that transforms into something sinister while finding small measures of kindness and grace.
Zandvliet achieves allegorical richness and authentic grit, with a landscape that richly reflects the difficulty of genuine atonement while also maintaining a realist’s tension. Most importantly, it has the courage to consider each of these characters as fully-fledged individuals, shaped by their experiences and identities rather than their uniforms, and in the process says more about the costs of war than most.