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Land of Mine

Martin Zandvliet

In this based-on-fact war drama, a group of German POWs are put to work by the Allies defusing their own landmines on the west coast of Denmark in the immediate aftermath of World War II.

In the movies, war stories abound. Fewer films detail the immediate aftermath of conflict and occupation. Land of Mine, the superbly realized new film from director Martin Zandvliet, gets us uncomfortably close to a little-told story. In the days following the surrender of Nazi Germany in May 1945, German soldiers in Denmark were put to work by their Allied captors. With minimal training in defusing explosives, they were sent to remove over 1.5 million of their own landmines from the Danish west coast. Nearly half of them were killed or severely wounded. Zandvliet uses this historical footnote as the entry point to a story that involves love and hate, revenge and reconciliation.

As a ragged group of German POWs is dropped off by trucks at the seaside, we see that most are still in their teens. They wear confusion and defeat in their eyes. There to greet them is the bullish Danish army sergeant Rasmussen (Roland Møller). Scornful of the Germans for their bloody five-year occupation of his country, and intent on punishing what's left of their army, he marches his squad out on the dunes each day to prod for mines. Yet this seemingly endless task soon starts to look like a bloodletting, and even Rasmussen grows conflicted in his feelings toward his young charges.

Between nerve-wracking set pieces — the slightest mistake or misstep can mean instant death — there is brief respite away from the beaches, and it is here that Zandvliet finds equally compelling fodder for his larger tale of comradeship, respect, and even unexpected friendship among survivors of war. Ultimately sensitive and sympathetic to the plight of all its characters, Land of Mine is about more than exorcising the recent past; it's about restoring the humanity in us all.

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