Under Sandet (2015) Review

Land Of Mine (2015)
Director: Martin Zandvliet
Screenwriter: Martin Zandvliet
Cast: Roland Møller, Mikkel Følsgaard, Laura Bro, Louis Hofmann, Joel Basman, Oskar Bökelmann, Emil Buschow, Oskar Buschow, Leon Seidel, Karl Alexander Seider, Maximilian Beck, August Carter, Tim Bülow, Alexander Rasch, Julius Kochinke.

Danish director Martin Zandvliet takes over an historical event that is not well-known and has never been told in history books or displayed on the silver screen before.

The movie starts with an establishing shot in which we see all of the German POWs marching. It is here we are introduced to the main character, Danish Sgt. Carl Rasmussen (Roland Møller) who is embittered by the war – he initially hates the Germans deeply for the occupation of his country. The entire plot then revolves around Sgt. Carl’s relationship with the young group of German soldiers who have been ordered to remove the mines under the Danish coast with their bare hands in order to get back home, and a sympathy grows as it comes to be understood that they receive very little training and they are obviously not capable of going through with the task.

Opposed to Carl’s stance is his superior, Lt. Ebbe (Mikkel Følsgaard) who is completely convinced that the Germans are Evil and that no sign of sympathy must be shown to them. Though this view is also shared by Carl at first – in fact he is very harsh with the boys and he doesn’t even let them eat – later on he starts to change; his metamorphosis is particularly interesting because it’s very beautiful to see how he came to try and help the young soldiers in the end, and it is moving to witness how he realised that they were just as human as himself. The movie cleverly works this concept to become a human story that explores oppression and the less than admirable parts of the human spirit. Carl, for example, comes to realise that his fellow Danish comrades don’t act better than the supposedly evil German soldiers as a part of this journey.

Carl’s relationship with the young Sebastian (Louis Hofmann) who is very bright and smart was a particular highlight of the movie as their connection was tangible. The dialogue shared by the main characters throughout many scenes in the film was worthy of a very strong emotional response; it was a powerful story and it was dramatised in an effective way by the director and the cinematographer Camilla Hjelm Knudsen.

One particularly admirable technique was the setting of all action on the Danish coast, where only sea and sand were in sight. This created the impression of a bleak and monotonous setting right from the start, and truly thrusts you into the character’s lives. This made the establishing shots very striking, and helped them to constantly reinforce feelings of angst and even fear. What’s more is that some scenes were frighteningly accurate, with gruesome and horrifying moments that contributed towards making it truly difficult to watch in all of the right ways.

The cast was equally as brilliant. The German soldiers were all different from each other: Helmut Morbach (Joel Basman) was the major skeptic of Sgt. Rasmussen and the only of the prisoners to have a belief that he could still escape the atrocities of his immediate landscape, whilst the others accepted their own fate almost immediately and provoked empathy as a result. Importantly, all of the characters were psychologically explored and even though it was difficult to do so with so many characters in a film, the director managed to give an insight into each of their differing personalities.

Land of Mine was presented at the TIFF in 2015 and it won in the categories of Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor, while also achieving a win for Best Danish Film at the Bodil Awards (which are the most important awards given by the Danish Film Critics Association).

In every way that a film can be well made, this movie is, and it deserves a…

Score: 22/24

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