After 5 years of brutal occupation by German forces, at last Denmark has the upper hand. Opening scenes show long lines of defeated German troops shuffling along a road, while a Danish sergeant fluent in German oversees them from his vehicle. What causes him to pick on one of these troops so harshly?
Soon we see the sergeant on the coast, overseeing a group of young recruits, teaching them the rudiments of mine clearance with a long stick in the sand dunes. They are told they cannot go home until that stretch of coastline has been cleared. Each recovered mine is deactivated, counted and catalogued. It is a matter of life and death. These lads are so cowed that it takes days for them to admit that they have not received their due food rations.
In his Director’s Statement, Martin Peter Zandvliet writes:
“My intention was to reveal a story based on a historical subject matter that is rather shameful for Denmark. Most historians have so far avoided the subject, perhaps understandably so. LAND OF MINE tells an important and humane story, largely unknown to the majority of Danes. It has been kept out of sight. Conveniently forgotten. Repressed. It is a film about revenge and forgiveness. About a group of boys forced to do penance on the behalf of an entire nation.
It is a very humane film that also tries to find out who these German boys were. We share their hopes and pray for their continued survival through this nightmare. We must believe that they once more can become human beings even though we disapprove of the violent regime of which they were a part. In a way we ask the question: Is it even possible to show sympathy for individuals who represent the terror of the Nazi regime?
They say that a great drama largely depends on the magnitude of the bad guy. As far as I am concerned, it is therefore the man who forces them to their deaths who is the true representative of the film and of the hate. Along with the boys, we therefore follow their keeper, the sergeant Carl. For Carl, the monsters transform into human beings.”
This film opens up a great many questions. The young recruits are mere “pawns”, so should they bear the blame for decisions made by the upper echelons of the army? They represent those years of oppression, so how much should they bear the scorn and hatred of the ordinary Danish people? Could this forced labour become their means of redemption, or will it lead to further betrayal? At the end of the film, can we understand the sergeant’s reaction to a small example of what returning soldiers have been doing for centuries? (In ‘souveniring’ a Danish flag the youth had behaved as a victor).
In accepting this British offer of German POWs for de-mining the Danish coastline, did Denmark commit a war crime? If so, how complicit was Britain, and other countries which did likewise?
Survival rates were quoted at the end of the film: of the 2,000 prisoners de-mining in Denmark, nearly 1,000 were killed.
Languages: Danish, English (subtitles), German. Running time: 1 hour 41 minutes.
The film dominated awards in Europe, where it won 3 European Film Awards in 2016. It has been nominated for Foreign Language Film for the Oscars 2017.
– Helen Stanger, SA Coordinator & Public Officer