By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ****1/2 out of *****.
A nominee for Best Foreign Language Film at the 89th Academy Awards, writer-director Martin Zandvliet’s Land of Mine (2015) is a tense, intimate and naturally gripping post-World War II tale. Inspired by true events, this Nordisk Film distribution release, concerns a team of 14 young men, all of whom are German Prisoners of War, that are trained to personally defuse the 2,000,000 landmines said to be left over from the recently ended combat. Set in Denmark during May of 1945, the bulk of the action in Zandvliet’s 101-minute feature focuses on the attempts of the group to clear a beach of its 45,000 hidden explosives. This is while being overseen by a Danish Army member, Sgt. Carl Rasmussen (in a spellbinding depiction from Roland Moller), who initially seems unconcerned with the general well-being of the squad.
The story alone is fascinating. Yet, Zandvliet’s screenplay makes this nightmarish chronicle evermore intriguing with its near-perfect pace. It is meticulously-moving and cerebral; exactly what the material demands. Moreover, Zandvliet also orchestrates a terrific balance of character development and nail-biting instances. The latter of which are all beautifully executed. Correspondingly, the believable dialogue and interactions by our on-screen personas further heightens the credibility the effort radiantly reflects. This triumphant attribute is a courtesy of Zandvliet’s top-notch authorship and guidance of the project. The same can be said of the powerhouse performances found within the presentation. Louis Hoffmann as Sebastian Schumann and Joel Basman as Helmut Morbach are especially good in their respective turns. Even though Rasmussen’s transformative attitude towards his crew is too sudden, it does little to detract from these high-functioning qualities.
Originally titled Under sandet (Under the Sand), this spellbinding endeavor is also illuminated by Camilla Hjelm’s masterful, 1960’s inspired cinematography. Sune Martin’s music is both haunting and marvelously emotive. Simultaneously, the persistent underlying dramatic and narrative intensity heightens the urgency at hand. It makes the feature evermore rousing and immensely watchable. Though not always satisfactorily detailed in its exposition, the picture is nonetheless memorable and masterful. The theme of youth risking life and limb in the name of violent confrontation, as well as the impactful finale, only drive these remarkable and unsettling traits home with stalwart force. The result is a bold, mesmerizing and singular cinematic experience; a must-see work.
(R). Contains adult language, adult themes and violence.