A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Land of Mine (Martin Zandvliet, 2015)

Emil Belton and Zoe Zandvliet in Land of Mine
Sgt. Carl Rasmussen: Roland Møller
Sebastian Schumann: Louis Hofmann
Helmut Morbach: Joel Basman
Lt. Ebbe Jensen: Mikkel Boe Følsgaard
Peter: Mads Riisom
Ludwig Haffke: Oskar Bökelmann
Ernst Lessner: Emil Belton
Werner Lessner: Oskar Belton
Karin: Laura Bro
Elisabeth: Zoe Zandvliet

Director: Martin Zandvliet
Screenplay: Martin Zandvliet
Cinematography: Camilla Hjelm
Production design: Gitta Malling
Film editing: Per Sandholt, Molly Marlene Stensgaard
Music: Sune Martin

The English title, Land of Mine, is an unfortunate but perhaps irresistible pun. The original Danish title was Under Sandet -- "Under the Sand" -- which lacks resonance with its central theme: the cruelty inflicted by victors on the vanquished. Land of Mine at least picks up on that theme, the patriotic urge to revenge one's country on those who attacked it, as well as indicating the action of the film, the defusing and disposal of land mines planted by the Germans along the Danish coast during World War II. It focuses on the Danish Sgt. Carl Rasmussen, tasked with training and supervising a company of German prisoners of war who are the ones who do the terrifying work of locating unexploded mines along the seashore. When we meet Rasmussen, he is brutally beating a German soldier who has had the audacity to pick up a Danish flag as a souvenir, so the officers in charge of the land mine detail are fairly certain that he will be no softy when it comes to handing the POWs. It turns out that the prisoners are very young -- barely out of their teens, late conscripts into the German army in the waning days of the war. Rasmussen and the POWs are billeted on a woman who has a small farm near the shore, and who shares his hatred for the Germans, stinting on the food she is supposed to provide the young men. She also has a young daughter, who in her innocence bears no grudge against the men and happily plays with one of them until her mother sends him away. It's a situation full of suspense, of course, but writer-director Martin Zandvliet can't seem to stay away from the obvious plotting clichés. We know that there will be some sort of rapprochement between Rasmussen and his fresh-faced charges. When we see that two of the young men are twins, who have dreams of returning to Germany and using their bricklaying skills to help rebuild their country, we're pretty sure that one or both of them will have to die. The hard-bitten sergeant shows no affection to anyone except his dog, so we're certain that the dog's a goner. We're not surprised when the little girl wanders off into the minefield and has to be rescued by the Germans, causing a change of heart in the girl's mother. And so on to the end of the film, which is supposed to be heartwarming but really feels like a foregone conclusion, a working-out of the movie's moral vision. Forgiveness is a fine and necessary thing, but Land of Mine too often sacrifices the drama for the sermon, just as the intrinsic facetiousness of the titular pun undercuts the seriousness of the film's intent.

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