The third feature from writer/director Martin Zandvliet (A Funny Man, Applause) explores the little-seen aftermath of the Second World War, as a group of teenage German prisoners of war are forced to undergo the painstaking task of removing thousands of land mines from Denmark’s coastline. The Danish sergeant, Rasmussen (Roland Møller) strictly supervises the unenviable task, spitting bile at the green conscripts. However, as their gruesome task progresses, both their inexperience and the sergeant’s view of what is just shifts as rapidly as the placement of bombs in sand. There were 2.2 million landmines buried along the Danish coastline following the war, and the film is often graphic in its depiction of the slow process and consequences to their removal. The often repetitive scenes of defusing mines are extremely tense, the kind of white-knuckling you would expect from an action thriller, only here the tension is only ever broken by a deadly explosion. What Zandvliet and his skilled cast do best in this film is give us a sense of the passing of time on the beaches. We hear that six mines an hour will take three months to clear, but Zandvliet’s deliberate pacing allows us to feel that passage through starvation, sickness, loss and comfort. Møller’s gripping performance softens at key moments throughout the film, yet in a world where the smallest acts of kindness to an enemy are almost a betrayal to the nation. In some ways, Zandvliet follows a horror movie structure, as various members of the cast are slowly picked off by a nameless enemy, but it’s just a more melancholy version of that. An important slice of history made real.
2015 | Denmark/Germany | DIR: Martin Zandvliet | WRITERS: Martin Zandvliet | CAST: Roland Møller, Louis Hofmann, Joel Basman | DISTRIBUTOR: Palace Films | RUNNING TIME: 101 minutes | RATING:★★★★ (8/10)