Sundance 2016: ‘Land of Mine’ is a Tense, Nerve-Wracking Experience


Land of Mine
Written and Directed by Martin Zandvliet
Denmark, 2015

Land of Mine shines a light on a portion of WWII history largely overlooked by cinema. At the end of the war, thousands of German POWs, many of them young boys, were forced to dig up and disarm 2 million mines across the coast of Denmark with nothing but their bare hands. We spend the runtime of writer/director Martin Zandvliet’s film with a small group of these young boys as they go about this treacherous process with Danish Sargaent Carl Rasmussen (Roland Møller) in charge of them.

Zandvliet approaches his material with a strikingly even hand, eschewing the lines of good and evil that traditionally accompany material involving Nazis. While these boys certainly were on the wrong side of history, Zandvliet shows that they are still boys who were raised in a corrupt and evil society, boys who didn’t know any better. During the Q and A after the film, Zandvliet acknowledged that he couldn’t have made a film that had sympathetic Nazi characters in it if he was German, as nobody would have accepted a German-made film with these sorts of presentations of Nazis.

One of the unique things the film does is not attach itself to any of the boys as its protagonist. By doing this, Land of Mine opens itself up to new levels of emotional tension. Traditionally, if you’re certain of a protagonist, there’s a reasonable amount of faith that they will make it through. That’s not the case here. Each scene is approached with the sad truth that any of these boys could die at any moment.


Each of the boys gives a lived-in performance, their youth colliding with the harsh realities of their world worn on their interactions. Roland Møller is a commanding presence throughout, making Rasmussen’s subtle arc from hating the boys to gaining a mutual respect and love for them authentically felt. This sort of arc could have been easily oversold, but he makes each beat believably human. It never happens overnight, but moment by moment.

Zandvliet and cinematographer Camilla Hjelm retain a calm but tense hand over the images and framing of their film. They know how to mine (hehe) the tension out of the scenes of the boys digging up the mines in long takes and tight framing, amping up the imminent danger of the activity. There is score that is sparsely used for the better, but is effective when employed.

Zandvliet uses the film to examine how we as humans tend to resort to acts of horror with our own acts of horror, telling ourselves it’s justified. While there are certain Danish characters who delight in the death and suffering of these POWs, Land of Mine largely encompasses a full spectrum of human emotion. Zandvliet understands the impulse to exact a sort of revenge of others as justice, but makes the film in an effort that we as humanity can rise above these sort of base instincts to a higher place. In this effort, Land of Mine is a quietly powerful work of tragedy that speaks to humility over revenge.

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