One of the four films that lost to The Salesman at the Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film came from Denmark, a positively terrifying post-World War II suspense work called Land of Mine. Set immediately after the war, the Danish military took their ex-Nazi German prisoners and forced them to diffuse and remove all of the landmines that they placed from the beaches on the west coast of the country. With only the most basic of training, the prisoners extracted more than 2 million mines, with more than half of them dying in the process. The film follows a group of Germans POWs, many of whom were still teenagers, on this harrowing mission, with the promise of being let go and sent home once their section of the beach is cleared.
Writer-director Martin Zandvliet (A Funny Man, Applause) has created a balanced portrayal of the way the Germans were treated by their Danish captors, and the hurt and anger felt by the Danish. You’ll spend most of Land of Mine on the edge of your seat wondering when the next mine will simply detonate and kill or maim the guy attempting to diffuse it.
Land of Mine seems almost built on tension and the promise of heartbreak, as we get to know the German prisoners who face a better-than-average chance of having their world explode. I feel like a great number of the best films of 2016 told previously unknown stories set before a familiar backdrop. Hidden Figures is an excellent example of this trend. Land of Mine certainly falls into that category as well, shedding light on a terrible act of retribution that was approved of (or at least overlooked by) Allied forces. And although it didn’t win the Academy Award earlier this week, the film is probably the most accessible of the five nominees and a true emotional roller coaster.
The film opens today at the Landmark Century Center Cinema.