Danish War Drama 'Land of Mine' Is a Film You Must See
An Unknown Chapter
Danish film Land of Mine tells an unknown story of how in May 1945 the British let Danes use German prisoners of war clean the western coast of Denmark from two million land mines that were planted there by retreating Germans in expectation of an Allied invasion. Fifty percent of prisoners of war, conveniently relabeled as voluntarily surrendered enemy personnel and assigned to do this dangerous job, either died or were severely wounded. Some of them were teenagers. The film was nominated for an Oscar and, ironically, lost it to another movie about perils of revenge.
Oh, no, not another war movie. Second World War again? How many times... You are overfed, desensitized and simply had enough. You’d rather bypass all must-sees be they even Oscar-nominees. Wait.
There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people.— Howard Zinn
What a Shame!
Land of Mine offers you a rare perspective of humanizing the enemy. It has beautiful uncluttered cinematography, superb cast and subtle enough message. “What a shame! What a shame for them (who planted the mines) and what a shame for you (who have to dig them up)!” says Lt. Jensen of Danish Corps. Even though the director made Land of Mine to remind Danes that treating prisoners of war inhumanely was nothing to be proud of, his goal was somewhat different. Martin Zandvliet wanted us to think, to think about today and ask ourselves preferably uncomfortable questions.
Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.— Banksy
Some Mines Are Still There... Under the Sand
As some film critics correctly point out, the story is not complicated, maybe even of a black-and-white variety and sometimes literally in-your-face. Don't make seeming simplicity fool you. Martin Zandvliet planted a mine; you can take up on a challenge to dig it up. Pick your favourite shot, pick your favourite scene, pick your favourite character and go from there. You can do the opposite: pick anything you liked the least because it made no sense to you. I can guarantee that your thinking will shift just like those mines in Skallingen. Soon you’ll realize that you are dealing not with a single mine, but a minefield that has no map and no matter how hard you try some mines will remain there for life.
There in the state of Denmark, under the sand, there are still some rotten mines left and during filming of Land of Mine one of them was found. It changed the situation somewhat.
How would you feel on that beach? Even now?
You can start with these questions and see where they will take you.
You can offer your own. I’ll gladly include them in the list.
Questions about the Film
- What is the main message of the film?
- How realistic is Land of Mine?
- What is the most questionable premise of the film?
- What would be different, if prisoners were more experienced men, the ones that Sgt. Rasmussen had in mind?
- What would be different if Sgt. Rasmussen was not alone, but one of a few guards? Would it have changed group dynamics?
- What if Sgt. Rasmussen wasn't on a remote beach and was in direct view of his superiors?
- What if the boys were not so conveniently docile?
- What if they were more casualties? Fifty percent as expected? Would the sergeant still proceed with the operation?
- What scenarios seem to be unlikely? For example, do you believe that a German POW would take and openly carry a Danish flag as a souvenir?
- Did Sgt. Rasmussen regret his angry outburst almost immediately and why? What did blood stains on the Danish flag symbolize?
- How does Land of Mine convey the theme of standing up for defeated, defenseless and powerless?
- Knowing that there were no early releases or partisan escapes, how would you justify the end of the film?
- Can you identify all the rivalries in the film? Are they important?
- Is it possible that making POWs to clear beaches from mines was not pure revenge? Could it be that Germans were not first in line for compassion just as they were not first in line for food?
What was the first question you asked yourself after the film?
A Missing Scene
Cinematography and Performances
- Does Land of Mine make a strong and lasting emotional impact and why?
- How cinematography of the film helps create a reflective mood?
- In what way Land of Mine is different from other war movies?
- Who is your favourite character and why?
- Which actor’s performance did you like the most and why?
- What did you like or dislike about performances of other actors?
- What is your favourite scene and why?
- What is your least favourite scene and why?
- There is a scene about the power triangle of Rasmussen, Sebastian and Helmut that did not make to the final cut. Do you wonder what it was about?
- Could a missing scene change our perception of characters just as the missing chapter about using POWs for doing dangerous jobs changed our perception of the liberators?
Is Sgt. Rasmussen a Violent Man?
In the opening scene, the sergeant is shown beating up a defenseless prisoner to a pulp. He also gives a few punches to another soldier who dared to speak up for his unfortunate comrade. Sgt. Rasmussen had his reason, just as the director Martin Zandvliet had his: he wanted to portray the sergeant as a very violent man full of hatred to Germans.
However if you watch Land of Mine more than once, you'll notice that as far as sergeants or military tyrants are concerned, Rasmussen is a decent and reasonable man. In order to establish and maintain his authority he has to be strict which in the military language translates to screaming, yelling and intimidation.
Are you soldiers?
- Are you soldiers? Answer me, you filthy swine!
Sgt. Rasmussen Meets His Unit
When Sgt. Rasmussen first arrives on location to meet his unit, he has a rather quizzical expression on his face. He did not expect to see these Germans.
His first question “Are you soldiers?” asked in a neutral tone is met with silence. “Are you soldiers? Answer me, you filthy swine!!!” he yells in a sudden fit of rage.
This is where we meet the characters one by one. Rasmussen asks for their full names and sizes everyone up. He looks favourably and curiously at the twins, Werner and Ernst Lessner, who seem to be the youngest and frailest of all. When one of them apologizes, Rasmussen barks “To hell with your entschuldigungs (apologies) I don’t need your apologies! Do you understand?!” But his anger flares up and quickly dissipates again. He moves on.
- And you, little guy?
- Wilhelm LeBern, Herr Feldwebel!
- Are you a soldier?
- Jawohl, Herr Feldwebel!
Again Rasmussen looks at Wilhelm almost with approval.
Are They Soldiers?
There is no easy answer
The Last Draft
At the end of the war youth was drafted in the National Militia (Volkssturm), an organization that was created by the Nazi Party. National Militia was not a part of the regular military forces. The Volkssturm units were very ineffective because they were comprised of the underage, overage, recovering from the wounds and people previously deemed unfit for service. If some older members had military experience, young boys and had none. There was not enough ammunition either. To make up for the lack of training, the Nazi Party was counting on fanaticism of the youth. After all, all of them grew up during the Nazi era. The beginning was jolly. The end was grim.
Yes, they were heavily brainwashed. But does it make them innocent? They all wore uniforms, had weapons and most of them saw combat. While some units surrendered quickly, others were fighting till last man standing. It’s quite possible that each one of them was responsible for at least one enemy death.
What Were the Choices?
Yes, the British made them clear the beaches of Denmark. But their beloved Fuhrer was responsible for millions of deaths and reducing Europe to rubble. He did not think that civilians should be treated any different than soldiers.
If you win, you need not have to explain...If you lose, you should not be there to explain!— Adolf Hitler
How old are you? 12?
- What do you want?
- My son. Alive.— from "Downfall"
What Do You Think? Are They Soldiers?
- Are those kids really kids? Are those kids soldiers?
- In your opinion, at what age a kid can become a soldier? At what age does a child understand that he is responsible for the consequences of his actions?
- At what age did you personally stop considering yourself a child?
- Do you know any other examples of volunteer underage soldiers? For example, seventeen year old tank drivers or kamikaze pilots?
- There is a tendency of underage boys to lie about their age and enlist voluntarily. Shall we consider them kids or soldiers?
- According to Lt. Ebbe Jensen, if a child is old enough to go to war, he’s old enough to clean his own mess. Sgt. Rasmussen maintains that these prisoners are still children who “don’t have a clue”. What is your position on the matter?
- Remember that we don’t know boys’ stories. Why do we make an assumption of boys’ innocence? If we knew what exactly they did, will be just as sympathetic?
- Nowadays, do we perceive teenagers and young men harmless or rather the most dangerous category prone to violent and abusive behaviour?
- Do you feel compassion for juvenile delinquents? After all, they are just boys who have no clue. Do you agree that even if they don’t deserve compassion, they need it the most?
- Does our legal system pursue justice or compassion?
I was also afraid of portraying the Germans as innocent victims. I hate innocent victims. These boys are also cold-blooded killers who probably killed a lot of people, but we should not forget that they were 6 or 7 years old when the war started.— Martin Zandvliet, the director of "Land of Mine"
In a War Zone, More Children Join the Ranks
Soviet Kid Soldiers, Some of Them Decorated
Sgt. Carl Leopold Rasmussen
played by Roland Møller
Questions about the sergeant
- How can you describe Sgt. Rasmussen’s character?
- How would you explain the opening scene, its symbolism and implications?
- Why Sgt. Rasmussen is a sole supervisor of the team?
- Would he behave differently if he was a part of the group of guards? How can you support your opinion?
- What do you think of Sgt. Rasmussen’s decision to steal food from the base’s kitchen? Didn’t he resort to the same methods (bending rules and taking matters into his own hands) as Helmut Morbach?
- Just as Helmut Morbach who is in no rush for blind submission and wants to escape another death march (at least to make his own decision), Sgt. Rasmussen disobeys the direct order of his superior and lets his boys run to Germany. Certainly, it won’t go unnoticed and unpunished. Who will pay the price and what kind of consequences there could be?
- Sgt. Rasmussen must have known that he had no authority to let boys go home after the job was done. Did his make his promise just to motivate his unit? Was he planning on keeping his word?
- Do you think it was a mistake of the sergeant to befriend his boys?
- Did he have any other option than to send them on a death march?
- What role does Sgt. Rasmussen play in the lives of the boys, a guard or a guardian? Could these two roles be reconciled?
It Changes the Situation Somewhat
Sgt. Rasmussen vs. Lt. Jensen
- Rasmussen: You should have told me that I was getting little boys, Ebbe. It changes the situation somewhat.
- Jensen: I don't think so. If you are old enough to go to war, you're old enough to clean up your mess.
- Rasmussen: These boys don't have a clue.
- Jensen: No? So fill them in, Carl. That's your job.
Sgt. Carl Rasmussen vs. Lt. Ebbe Jensen
- How would you characterize Lt. Ebbe Jensen?
- Is he more of a careerist or an agent of revenge?
- What is the real reason of conflict between the sergeant and lieutenant? Is it about the German POWs or is it simply a power struggle?
- How can the sergeant justify his plea to release his four survived boys? Release of just four prisoners creates a precedent. If these four Germans are released, why not others?
- “If I hear about these boys again, I’ll go and shoot them myself.” Lt. Jensen has an authority to shoot Germans, but does he the authority to release them?
- What consequences for insubordination does Sgt. Rasmussen face?
- Why is he risking his career for just four German POWs?
played by Joel Basman
A Curious Case of Helmut Morbach
- How can you describe the character of Helmut Morbach?
- The film is about empathy, compassion and understanding, but do you feel any for Helmut?
- Helmut is an officer, but what is his rank? Is it higher than a sergeant?
- Have you noticed an armband on his sleeve? What does it say and what is it for?
- Men in the military maintain that unlike civilians they can always tell an officer by his demeanor. Does Helmut behave like an officer?
- Does our antipathy for Helmut prevent us from seeing the situation from his perspective? Does he make any valid points?
- Would it make a difference if Helmut fully explained the danger of their work to Wilhelm so that Wilhelm would have been more cautious? After all, when Ernst got sick, he stopped working despite Sgt. Rasmussen’s orders.
- Do you agree with Helmut that well-being of the unit was a responsibility of the commanding officer? If Sgt. Rasmussen considered himself the only one in charge, does it mean that he failed to meet his obligations?
- What did you think when Helmut says, “I told you so, he may as well line us up and shoot us.”? Did his preference to be shot by British rather than go on another death march make sense to you?
- Was Helmut more realistic than Sebastian in saying that Sgt. Rasmussen won’t keep his promise?
When Your Neck Is on the Line...
played by Louis Hofmann
"Tie him down! Tie him down, I said!"
Questions about Sebastian
- How can you describe the character of Sebastian Schumann?
- Why does Sebastian immediately command respect?
- Irresistible as he is, how realistic is his character? Is he too good to be true?
- What outcome is more likely when Sebastian stands up for another? Can you describe how, in similar circumstances, such scenarios usually play out?
- What is the core of rivalry between him and Helmut Morbach?
They are soldiers, it's their job to die.
Everybody eventually dies.— Hitler ('Downfall')
Dialog from the film 'Downfall'
Mohnke: There are still three million civilians here. They have to be evacuated.
Hitler: I understand your concern, Mohnke. But we have to be cold as ice. We can’t spend any energy on so-called civilians.
Mohnke: With all due respect, what will happen to the women and children... and the thousands of wounded and elderly?
Hitler: In a war such as this one, there are no civilians.
Generation War - Better Them than Us
Even the Title Caused Some Controversy
Which title do you prefer?
In this video clip at 2:45, the film is dubbed for Danes speaking German.
Do you think that dubbing takes away from the characters?
Prisoners of War
How much do you we know about prisoners of war?
On both sides?
- Does justice leave room for compassion?
- What makes armies effective?
- When it comes to justice, what is the major difference between an army and legal system?
- What challenges do victors face when they take prisoners? What comes first – theory or reality? Logistics or ethics? Morality or practicality?
- What was the fate of prisoners of war in Europe during World War II? How did Germans treat prisoners of war? How were German POWs were treated afterwards in different countries?
- Was Denmark the only country that used prisoners of war for dangerous jobs such as clearing up minefields? Was it a common practice?
- Do you agree that one thousand casualties is a negligible number compared with almost all events during the war? After having encircled yet another Soviet Army, Germans ended up with 90,000 surrendered soldiers most of whom were heavily wounded. Were they treated as prisoners of war? What happened to them? Was it even possible to take care of so many people?
- Do you know any films about German Prisoners of war and the ones that were taken by Germans?
Summer 1941 - Soviet Prisoners of War
An Interview with the director Martin Zandvliet
- Failed Fatherland: Martin Zandvliet Disarms a Dark Passage in Denmarks History in Oscar-Nominated La
A visually economical war film, Martin Zandvliet’s Academy Award-nominated Land of Mine finds poetry in the spareness of the desert landscape.
A Hard Sell
Making a film about prisoners of war is a tall order. Making a film which will make viewers uncomfortable is not easy. And what was almost impossible was to make a film with such a strong impact that made people think, that made people want to ask questions and look at the Second World War from a different perspective.
I tried to [manipulate] the financiers into seeing something that they couldn't. Martin was focusing on amateurs. Roland Møller, the sergeant, is not a famous actor, which made financing it more difficult. There was no selling. They also all speak German, and as a domestic film in Denmark, that’s a hard sell.— Mikael Christian Rieks, the producer of 'Land of Mine'
© 2018 kallini2010