MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Land of Mine (Under sandet)’ is brutally tense and surprisingly moving

Bolstered by a lack of pretense, this Danish WWII thriller is uniquely nerve-wracking

| April 8, 2017

WWII movies are a bit of cliché now in Hollywood, with each studio putting in a stake of their own in this massive sub-genre of films that have fallen on both spectrums of quality. On one end, you have films like “Saving Private Ryan” that redefine the genre in an epic, brutal, heartbreaking adventure with one of the most memorable opening sequences in film ever made. On the other hand, you have films like “Valkyrie” and “Unbroken,” which use massive scales to illustrate the scope of the war at hand, but loses much of the human element in the process of trying to make a large-scale war film. When it comes to foreign war films, it’s much more narrow focused than American war films, focusing much more on the human element of war, with an audience expectation of knowledge of the war at hand, rather than painting a big scale to make it a bit easier to understand. This is where “Land of Mine (Under sandet)” comes in, a Danish WWII film with an almost surprisingly narrow focus, but uses filmmaking techniques to make the film feel larger than life.

After the surrender of Germany, Sgt. Carl Rasmussen (Roland Møller) is a no-nonsense sergeant for the Danish Army tasked with the task of overseeing a group of young German soldiers forced to defuse the over 2 million landmines placed upon the Danish shoreline over the course of the war. When the soldiers show up, Rasmussen is shocked to find that the group of soldiers being held as prisoners are mere teenagers, and while his sympathy for the soldiers is slim at first, the child-like qualities of these boys being maimed and killed defusing these landmines soon begins to blur the lines of war-torn borders.

Møller, unlike another foreign performance last year with Isabelle Huppert in “Elle,” should’ve been under consideration for awards beyond just the Danish wards he won (though the film was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at this year’s Oscars, though it lost to “The Salesman”). It’s rare that you find a performance so intense and nuanced in a film of any language, but the best part of Møller lies in his backstory as a former street criminal who turned his life around to become an actor. I would hope the intensity of his past is what drives such an intense and subtle performance in him. Beyond Møller, the ensemble of boys that make up the 14 teenagers under his command are also powerful, but in completely different ways. Going into “Land of Mine,” I found it difficult to sympathize with a group of German soldiers after the war, but as the film went on, it becomes clearer and clearer that these kids don’t even fall under the “I was just following orders” prompt, but that these kids were forced into a situation that they themselves had no idea about, and find out along the way of their entrapment.

The beauty of “Land of Mine” lies in its ability to present a story to the audience free of any pretense or agenda. “Land of Mine” doesn’t try to paint any side of the war in any particular light, but rather takes a more humanistic approach to the entire ordeal, and the importance of forgiveness in those who might not have truly known what they were doing out of fear. The dynamics played upon in the film are powerful ones, especially as the film progresses and as the sergeant slowly begins to take sympathy to these boys, as tensions begin to rise with his superiors. This is a WWII film like none other, one that seeks to listen to both sides of the story from normal, scared individuals.

And we haven’t even touched upon the minesweeping sequences, which might be one of the more intense scenes I’ve seen in a film in the past year. The lack of fluff or censorship around the scenes where things go wrong makes it an incredibly volatile watching experience, with an almost unbearable sense of unpredictability that makes the viewing experience unique to the film, which is a rarity in modern cinema, foreign or otherwise.

For as narrowly focused “Land of Mine” is, the scale of the film feels grand, if only due to the stunning locales the film sets itself in. While the film is a low-budget foreign indie, director Martin Zandvliet shoots the film like a big-budget epic, with sweeping shots and wide-shots making up a major portion of the film. Yet, Zandvliet also finds strength in many of the intimate scenes in the film, more specifically one involving the sergeant and a soldier sitting on the beach after a tragic event. These scenes are heartwrenching and true, involving the audience’s emotions in ways you might not expect from a film like this.

“Land of Mine” might not be as show-stopping as some other WWII films, but its quiet, restrained nature and unique approach to wartime morality set it apart by being one of the original war films in recent memory. With a beautiful aesthetic, wonderful shifts in narrative tone and a killer performance from Møller, this is a beautifully minimalist film that finds beauty in everything from the attractive to the gruesome. The tension in the film runs high, and the effect runs even higher, but this sense of nail-biting suspense is only a portion of what makes “Land of Mine” so great, and if you give some time to the message at hand here, I can only hope you see that as well.

4/5

Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Directed by: Martin Zandvliet
Starring: Roland Møller, Mikkel Boe Følsgaard, Louis Hofmann, Joel Basman, Leon Seidel, Emil Belton, Oskar Belton, Oskar Bokelmann, August Carter, Laura Bro, Zoé Zandvliet.
Runtime: 100 minutes
Rating: R for violence, some grisly images, and language.
Now playing exclusively at the Regal Manor Twin.

A Sony Pictures Classics release, in association with RatPac Entertainment, Nordisk Film Production, Amusement Park Film, K5 International and K5 Film, “Land of Mine,” A Nordisk Film production & Amusement Park Film/in association with Majgaard and K5 International, K5 Film, in co-production with ZDF/with support from Det Danske Filminstitut V/ Steen Bille, Filmförderung Hamburg Scleswig-Holstein, Deustcher Filmförderfond, Eurimages, DR, Nordisk Film & TV Fond, Varde Kommune, Det Nissenske Familiefond, Filmförderungsanstalt

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Category:Arts and Entertainment, Film

Hunter Heilman Hunter is the current editor-in-chief for The Niner Times. He is a junior Communications major who wishes he were a dog and wants to pet your dog if you have one. Hunter has been a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA) since August 2015. Please do not hesitate to shoot him an e-mail at editor@ninertimes.com for any questions or concerns and he'll be sure to get back to you ASAP.

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Hunter Heilman Hunter is the current editor-in-chief for The Niner Times. He is a junior Communications major who wishes he were a dog and wants to pet your dog if you have one. Hunter has been a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA) since August 2015. Please do not hesitate to shoot him an e-mail at editor@ninertimes.com for any questions or concerns and he'll be sure to get back to you ASAP.

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