Land of Mine (Zandvliet, 2015)

After World War II ended, the Danish perpetrated the ultimate revenge against the Germans: they sent their youngest soldiers to clear the West Coast beaches of mines. And there were millions of them. Just imagine these men—some just boys—crouched on the sand, poking for explosives, nervously deactivating them, knowing that one wrong move will be their end… imagine that, and you will also accurately represent this incredibly tense film. Incredibly tense, yet effectively so, because Martin Zandvliet does one hell of a job making us like the group of boys he depicts, and because we like them, we worry for them. Zandvliet is not cruel enough to catch us completely unawares (except for maybe one moment that happens offscreen), but dammit, it’s still hard to watch human lives end in clouds of black smoke. Even if you think you won’t gasp… you do.

I also want to commend Roland Møller, who plays the Danish sergeant supervising the boys. A very tricky role, because he’s not a nice man at first, and you wonder how his “change” will come about. Well, I won’t give anything away, but Møller does it superbly. I also really liked Louis Hofmann as the boys’ leader, who holds his cool extremely well, and Emil Belton is heartbreaking as a twin brother. A wonderful ensemble all around, right down to Zandvliet’s daughter (I assume) who radiates such purity in her few scenes.

If some historical license was taken, I don’t care myself. Going into this, I did not know the Danish had been so callous; now their treatment of those poor, unfortunate German boys will never leave me.