Movie Review: Land of Mine
Written and Directed by Martin Zandvliet, Land of Mine tells the story of a group of German boys, made prisoners of war after Germany’s 1945 surrender, sent to Denmark after World War II to clear land mines scattered all over the country’s West Coast.
Based on true historical events, the film is a dramatised retelling of a common situation many young German boys faced risking their lives defusing land mines in excruciating conditions prone to the abuse of those around them formed by stereotype and racial bias. More specifically, Land of Mine revolves around the relationship between a group of young German Boys, prisoners of war, and Danish Sargent Carl Leopold Rasmussen (Roland Møller) as they work under his supervision to clear land mines.
In a possibly sadistic way, it seems that the appeal of Land of Mine for audiences could be the risk of death or severe injury to the film’s protagonists. The vulnerability of youth as a result of the forced situation of which the young German boys are placed in as prisoners of war addresses the loss of future opportunities or hope in relation to a post-war context. When relating this to the aftermath of World War II’s harsh reality, Zandvliet presents to us the idea that war affects all parties, blurring the idea that there are clearly defined winners and losers when it comes to conflict.
Seeking a strong emotional response, Land of Mine’s script is seemingly predictable, with the danger of the glorification of war being something that could undermine its success. The excessive use of violence is paired with a strong correlation to the use of film techniques properly demonstrating Zandvliet’s awareness of film as a visual medium and the use of said techniques to evoke meaning.
Clearly the film’s use of narrative, cinematography, sound design, and editing establish a feeling of anxiety which runs from the first frame to the last, interweaving between feelings of desperation or hopelessness and hopefulness for a better situation for all characters involved.
More specifically, the use of hand-held camera, shallow focus, close ups on character’s face whilst defusing a landmine, the use of sounds such as shallow breathing, silence before the presence of an explosion, a desaturated colour palate and a foreboding soundtrack are all techniques which, although cliched, clearly work in playing with our emotions. That said, overtime the excessive use of these mentioned techniques in particular the repetition of these techniques as an example of how film language can be used to communicate a story’s script seems to lose its meaning and therefore its effectiveness overtime. In a film which seems to appeal to the emotions of a viewer, in particular the desperate situation the young German boys are placed in, Land of Mine asks for a empathetic reaction in audiences. Due to classical conditioning of which an unwelcome stimulus such as the presentation of a character’s injury or misfortune warrants a negative response in viewers, Zandvliet clearly tries to appeal to the empathic nature of audiences in order humanise characters in his script but over overexposure of film techniques results in a loss in effectiveness of the script’s message for viewers.
Viewers are lulled into a false sense of security and hope as to the livelihood of the young Germans, whose mention of future aspirations such as becoming a bricklayer or getting a girlfriend after the task they are sent to undertake is plagued by misfortune as events in the film unravel. It feels somewhat exploitative, drawing on one’s emotions and vulnerability when watching a film which deals with such heavy themes that surround war and the devastation that it evokes.
That said, Sargent Carl (Møller) who is initially perceived as the villain in Land of Mine for abusing the young Germans, begins to show empathy through acts of hospitality, providing food for the boys to eat and listening to the concerns of certain characters, blurring the definition of who the enemy is.
Opposing perspectives and raw emotions associated with the aftermath of a tragic event such as war diminishes the justification that certain racial groups should be treated in a particular way due to the actions of those before them. It’s a simplification of perspective and a stereotyping of race established by hatred resulting from a collective negative experience regarding a certain subset of people who, as a minority, falsely represent the majority. This possibly justifies Sargent Carl’s (Møller) horrible treatment of the young Germans boys in Land of Mine, his attitude based on prejudice and social construct established by negative interactions with certain social groups. As the script humanises both parties, presenting moments throughout beyond merely clearing landmines, a mutual understanding of both cultures is established, leading to the thought that prejudices of which Carl judges the boys with on first engagement with them as a group of Germans is incorrect. This suggests that attitudes towards certain social groups is due to one’s exposure of certain ideologies, established by one’s culture rather than one’s one personal experience.
Land of Mine presents to audiences the consideration that possible prejudices they may have towards certain groups of people may be based on unreliable data. Shared social experiences established by interactions with individual members of an opposing group can be used to remove negative, socially established stereotypes of which conflict creates.
Upon closer inspection, Land of Mine demonstrates how the effects of war can influence the human psyche in relation to authoritarianism, stereotypes, grief and empathy, particularly in a post-war environment.
The tell-tale signs of grief, as witnessed in the behaviour of the young German prisoners of war, include disbelief, anger, bargaining, guilt, anger, depression and hope. These emotions run throughout the film’s narrative causing audiences to empathise with the protagonists through a shared collective experience of grief portrayed on screen.
The title of the film itself, Land of Mine suggests a sense of patriotism associated with belonging to a particular cultural group based on race, language and geographical borders rather than correctly established relations formed through interactions with those belonging to a cultural group different from ones own. Even though Land of Mine plays out as if a real life game of minesweeper, ownership of land as the film’s title suggests is not only a territorial battle with the land itself, specifically the presence of Germans on Danish land after the war, but a battle with one’s own identity and sense of self.
Review by Addy Fong.