AFI FEST 2016: Award Winner ‘Land of Mine’ ✭✭✭✭✭

As a Southern Californian, it’s easy for me to imagine boys on the beach frolicking and laughing. There are scenes like this in the AFI FEST 2016 World Cinema Audience Award-winner, “Land of Mine,” but these serve as a contrast to the horrors of what was supposedly peace time in post-World War II Denmark.

Denmark was an exception to most countries that fell under the Nazi regime. The German occupation began in April of 1940. Warnings had been made but ignored. When German troops crossed the border and troops disembarked in Copenhagen, the government didn’t have enough time to declare war. Even so, Denmark was too small a country with too small a defense force to have resisted the invasion. The King Christian X remained in Denmark. The Danish government resisted efforts to mistreat their Jewish minority. When the Danish government was finally dissolved in 1943, and the Germans instituted martial law, the majority of the Jewish population was transported to Sweden by their fellow Danes.

When Denmark was finally freed from the German Occupation by the British, there was the bitter question of collaboration and what to do with the German refugees that had come to Denmark. The influx of refugees was a different kind of invasion.  The German refugees would eventually be cleared away after the war–most returning home, but there was another more deadly souvenir of the war that had to be cleared away: the mines on the many beaches of Denmark.

“Land of Mine” (“Under Sandet”) begins with the bitter explosion of anger. Danish Sergeant Carl Rasmussen (Roland Møller) sees a young German POW soldier clutching a Danish flag as he marches by. He beats the boy up. The sergeant has been assigned a small group of German POWs to train in defusing land mines from a beach.

The young men are quickly trained and their final test is to individually defuse live bombs. Not all survive. Led by Sebastian (Louis Hofmann) who attempts to remain positive despite the naysaying of Helmut (Joel Basman), the remaining young men contend with near starvation and the contempt of both the Danish and, in a particularly unpleasant incident, the British forces. The middle-aged sergeant internally battles his growing paternal feelings and his anger over the occupation and the cold bitterness of his fellow Danes, including his younger commanding officer Lt. Ebbe (Mikkel Følsgaard).

The film was shot on authentic locations (Oksbøllejren and areas in Varde) and even discovered an old mine during filming. Denmark wasn’t the only country to use German POWs to clear mines. France  did as well and survivors have asked for compensation. Norway also used POWs for demining as did the US and the British in areas under their administration. Technically, under the Geneva Conventions (article 32), POWs are not to be used for dangerous tasks, but the Allies insisted that the men were not POWs, but “disarmed enemy forces.”  Under this designation or the designation of “surrendered enemy forces,” prisoners were not allowed the rights that would have been guaranteed to them under the Geneva Conventions as POWs and were forced to do this and other tasks by the Allied Forces. It wasn’t until August 1949 that the Geneva Convention “eliminated the use of POWs for demining” according to the Journal of Mine Action.

“Land of Mine” won Best (Danish) Film at the Bodil Awards. Roland Møller won Best Actor, and Louis Hofmann, Best Supporting Actor.  At the 2015 Tokyo International Film Festival, Møller and Hofmann won Best Actor. The movie premiered at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival and is Denmark’s submission for Best Foreign Language Film for the 89th Academy Awards.

“Land of Mine” is scheduled for U.S. release in February 2017. In Danish and German with English subtitles.

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