'Land of Mine' EW movie review
During the Second World War, the Nazi army planted two million land mines all along the beaches of Denmark. It was in anticipation of an Allied invasion along that route that never happened. In the aftermath of the war, German POWs were forced to clear the coast of all the bombs buried under the sand.
Under the Sand, in fact, is the Danish name of this disappointingly square post-war drama, which depicts a few months in the life of one such horde of POWs. No idea why its title was changed to the bad pun sledgehammer Land of Mine, but the film lives up to that leaden symbolism. The young soldiers are classic movie archetypes (the identical twin brothers, the emotional basket case, the quiet strong leader) and the plot is stone-faced solemnity. As the last trickle of Hitler Youth before the defeat of the Third Reich, the baby-faced soldiers are required to clear 45,000 mines from one stretch of beach, while a Danish officer (intense Roland Møller, who could be the blond brother of Mads Mikkelsen) looks on, not caring if they die from starvation, exhaustion or bomb triggering. His eventual thaws towards the boys and finds compassion. Because, of course, drama.
Yet that is a war movie cliché if there ever was one. And as stale as the bread that the soldiers are given to eat. Worse, Land of Mine operates on a very cynical logic that equated bombs being diffused with actual narrative tension. Obviously, anxiety is red-hot whenever the movie focuses tightly on a bomb that just might go off. You can feel it in the pit of your stomach and in the urge to close your eyes when a character is sloppily pulling the live charge out of a rusted mine.
But how is that challenging or interesting? Alfred Hitchcock was frolicking on this playground eight decades ago—and at least he didn’t mask the fact that he was manipulating the hell out of his audience. Hitchcock later regretted enlisting a little boy in his scheme, but writer-director Martin Zandvliet even includes into his story a little village girl and a pet dog, who each stumble onto the trigger happy section of the beach at different points. Those are pretty low blows. But audiences love to be worked over; people who hate horror films are quick to praise any prestige drama, even if it’s using the cheap nuts and bolts of a cheap slasher flick.
Land of Mine has been universally praised and is nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at this year’s Oscars. Meanwhile, two of the year’s most genuinely exciting, provocative cinematic experiences—Park Chan-Wook’s The Handmaiden, which wasn’t even submitted by South Korea for the award, and Paul Verhoeven’s Elle, which was submitted by France—are not nominated. Both titles might have suffered because of the very adult content in their stories. But they offer deep examinations of human behavior and, incidentally, a fantastic time at the movies. Land of Mine is essentially bomb porn. C