Director: Martin Pieter Zandvliet, Denmark, Germany
In May of 1945, the war was over, but the grim realities of it still remained on the shores of Denmark which were scattered with two million mines placed there by German troops. Danish authorities forced thousands of German POWs, mostly from the German Volkssturm which was made up of very old and very young men pressed into service at the end of the war, to clear these mines. Land of Mine is a fictional story of several teenage boys, who must dig up mines with their bare hands.
Considering the usual fare of films dealing with World War II and the events that followed afterwards, Land of Mine is interesting. The Germans in the film are young boys instead of hardened soldiers and from the beginning it is clear that the audience is supposed to feel sympathy and connect with them. It isn’t often that a film comes along that depicts the soldiers of a previously occupied territory as the antagonists and the German soldiers as the protagonists. Well, not common outside of Nazi propaganda films that is. And yet Land of Mine does just this, although perhaps not with enough subtlety.
At times the film is almost too mainstream, the characters too clichéd, the plot too foreseeable, but it doesn’t detract from its visceral effectiveness. It is hard to watch a film where you know many children are going to die. It is even harder when one realizes that although fictional, the film is based on fact; that the Danish did indeed force unskilled former soldiers to clear their mines. Land of Mine is therefore successful in bringing to light an unsavory part of Denmark’s past. Unfortunately, this topic would have been much better served with a more intelligent and nuanced script. Instead of a sensitively approaching the subject matter of whether the Danish broke the Geneva Conventions in their treatment of what were essentially POWs and also examining the common narrative about culpability of all Germans during the war, Land of Mine is instead a heavy handed tear jerker. It is rather unfortunate, but hopefully it will lead the way for a better film in the future.