Tropic Sprockets / Land of Mine

By Ian Brockway

“Land of Mine” by director Martin Zandvliet was nominated for an Oscar in the Best Foreign Film category this year. It tells the true story of a very young group of German POWs forced to find and diffuse thousands of land mines on a Danish beach after WWII. The POWs are still kids, most hardly more than fifteen years old.

Sgt. Rasmussen (Roland Møller) commands fourteen boy soldiers and for the most part they are treated worse than dogs. They are unwanted. The boys are forced to crawl in the sand and they never know when a mine will go off and obliterate them from existence. Rasmussen does not care if they live or die. The group is starved and works without food much of the time. One segment shows the boys getting sick from bad feed. It was contaminated by excrement from rats.

One of the boys steal from a young girl (Zoe Zandvliet) just so he can survive. She becomes a welcome acquaintance. Yet for most of the story, these boys are seen as untouchable.

Be warned: this film does not pull punches. It is quite disturbing and gory. Limbs are blown apart while some vanish in all encompassing black explosions. Rasmussen alone is as cruel as Colonel Saito in “The Bridge on the River Kwai.” Suffice to say, every force seems to conspire against this group and yet for all of the misery and danger, these soldiers are shown also for who they are: a group of kids, wanting their mothers and craving fun.

Every young actor is terrific here. But the  highlights are Louis Hoffman as Sebastian and Leon Seidel, who co-starred as Huck Finn in a German production of “Tom Sawyer,”  as Wilhelm.

The nauseating truth is that these children were treated as less than human. The Danish too, were once guilty of acting as Nazis. Though not at all for the queasy, “Land of Mine” is a charged and highly emotional film. It deserves its accolades and should be put alongside the masterwork “Das Boot”.

Write Ian