Kamloops Film Festival in review: Land of Mine

Each year, The Omega reviews the films presented at the Kamloops Film Festival. The festival came to a close on March 11.

Land of Mine is set in post-war Denmark, during a time when German soldiers were forced to clear mines set by Nazi Germany along the Danish coast in anticipation of an invasion that ended up happening elsewhere. The result was millions of mines that needed to be removed.

The film follows a group of about a dozen German soldiers commanded by Danish sergeant Carl Rasmussen, who teaches the soldiers to find and defuse mines and puts them to work. Each night, he also locks them in from the outside of their beach cabin, and tells them they know what would happen if they tried to escape.

But these soldiers aren’t men. They’re boys. In the final throws of the Second World War, Hitler’s forces recruited all possible soldiers, including many who were mere teenagers, and these are the boys we see in the film.

The film is unapologetic in its depiction of the horrors of war, or rather post-war. Moreover, it is unapologetic in its depiction of the attitudes present in post-war Denmark, or, one imagines, any post-war European country that was invaded or occupied. These boys are hated and largely treated as disposable and less than human – understandable given what Europe had just been through.

Rasmussen wants to hate the soldiers because of who they represented in the war, but can’t help but see them only as boys. It is this cognitive dissonance that makes the film work as well as it does. The acting performances are also stellar, and the setting of Danish coastal lands provides a beautiful, but devastatingly flawed and dangerous beauty.

A film like this, where any given character is prone to a sudden death in a minefield, could really crank up the anxiety levels – but Land of Mine doesn’t really do that. Instead, it balances this potential violence against tender and real human moments, and loads them with the effects of a very recent and horrific history.