BY ROGER THOMAS
Back in February, when the Oscars were being presented, I had seen four out of the five films nominated as “Best Foreign Language Film.” I wrote about how much I liked both “The Salesman,” an Iranian film, and “A Man Called Ove,” the Sweden nominee. “The Salesman’ eventually won, and I was satisfied with that. I also liked “Tanna,” the Australian nominee, but not as much as the first two films mentioned. The fourth film from Germany, “Toni Erdmann,” was the only one I simply did not enjoy at all. I would not want to sit through it again. The story had a few moments but nothing that moved me the way the other three did.
That brings me to the fifth nominee, “Land of Mine.” This film is based on a true story. It is set after the end of World War II. Germany has lost and teenage German soldiers are prisoners of war. These boys, some who are very young, are forced, sometimes with physical discipline, to disarm thousands of land mines from a beach in Denmark before they may be set free. Safety is not guaranteed, and freedom may or may not be an illusion.
One of the greatest strengths of this film is that none of the actors are recognizable. All the boys may be experienced actors but they are not known in the states. All of them create pity and fear for the audience watching, knowing that in almost any scene one of the youth may not be coming back off the beach. As lives are lost the tension mounts and hardly ever lets up.
Another strength is the relationships between the boys and their Danish leader. At first, these are Germans, and that is all that matters. Germans, even those who are merely boys caught up in a war that was not of their creation, are to be hated by any Dane officer. War divides people, that is obvious, but as this film shows when ones get to know his enemy in a different setting, opinions may change.
Which brings me to a third strength of the film. This is not a film where there are two factions who hate one another and then learn to love each other. The tensions between the Danish Sargent and the German boys does not magically change and everyone likes everyone else. It is more like reality, two steps forward, one step back. The relationships almost change with the tides on the beach.
The weakest aspect of the film is the ending. It is not a bad ending, but a little too safe. I would like to know if that part of the story is historically accurate or the choice of the director to make the film tidy.
I would also offer a word of caution. The film does have a few moments that are challenging to watch. Remember, this is a story of teenagers defusing bombs. Compared to “Hacksaw Ridge” this film has very little blood, but there are some harsh moments and in this case the violence is happening to boys, not men.
In the end, I liked “Land of Mine” very much. I liked the tension it created and I liked the stories of the different boys and how they struggled. If I had to choose between all the Foreign Language films to watch again, as much as I liked “The Salesman” and “A Man Called Ove,” I think I would have to choose “Land of Mine.” This powerful story based on history trumps the others. I think a second viewing would not in any way diminish the tension of the film and would most likely enhance the film overall.
Finally, I appreciate that this film, about the aftermath of war, promotes both the difficulty to move forward and the absolute necessity to do just that for the good of all.
Roger Thomas is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association. He reviews films for The Stanly News & Press.