Martin Zandvliet’s Land of Mine goes on to tell a very different side of war. In fact, it’s not a war film since it takes place after the war.
There is a much darker undertone behind the juvenile, playful titular pun, that makes the film emotionally riveting.
In sharp contrast to Roni Ezra’s 9. April‘s ‘futility of war’ being the central theme, Land of Mine delves into the absolute complexity of emotions in a post-war setting. It resonates what many of the modernist authors, namely Wilfred Owens and Virginia Woolf wrote about war – the war lives on. Of course, the war lives on not only in the minds of the combatants but continues with the mines. We see the Sergeant losing his temper multiple times at the inhumanity, his own sense of loss, and utter nonsense coming from the high command.
During the first few minutes of the film, we are at complete ease with the idea that the arbitrators are “cleaning up” the beaches of mine. The euphemistic phrase does not bring to the mind of children blown up to pieces, crying for their mothers and painfully screaming for their repatriation. In fact, there are always two sides of perspectives in a war – those who experience the war to see the disconnect between reality and euphemisms, and those who do not. Thus it is the Sergeant who, as a protagonist, shifts us between the divide between the front and the home front (the high command included).
In fact, there is no designated protagonist in the beginning, seeming omniscient. Then we start to realize that the officer is the protagonist and we do not even bother looking at the German soldiers. Just because the very beginning of the film went at length to really allow the audience to feel the sheer anger of the sergeant, who here is the victim, who had his dignity violated. The sergeant punches the German who unrighteously carried the Danish flag as a souvenir and a part of us revel in it. Be it kind words or physical violence, returning a favour has always been a pleasure for humanity. Zandvliet so desperately wants us to recognize just what we are. We are encountered with the reality that reminds us that we have no right to mourn for the German prisoners who lost their lives clearing the minefields, who we later wish to mourn for. With absolute certitude we dismiss those Germans as nothing more than war machines and we choose not to see the human side of those contorted, broken individuals made to look like invincible automatons.
Violation, however, is nothing like what we think we perceive in the scene. We learn the feeling of violation which stems from nationalism is something artificial and learnt rather than real violation.
The boys who clear the minefield itself lends a powerful imagery of how wrong war is on a moral scale. The picture is a violation of human rights and moreover, a violation to humanity.
The film often makes the viewer uncomfortable because it makes them wonder exactly who is killing these boys. The monarch of Denmark? The Royal Danish Army? The Sergeant himself? Who, by the way, may be trying to protect his conscience by expressing his emotions? The soldiers of the Wehrmacht who planted those very mines? The man who invented the mine?
The concurrent question also prodded on by the sergeant is, do they deserve it? There is a muted tension between things of opposite elements that contend forever on opposite ends of the equilibrium. Love and hate exists as if they are perfectly harmonious.
We can understand that as a soldier, you must obey orders. Most movies make the obeying part a glorious moment or even a matter of fact thing to do. Besides, the superiors must know better than the privates right? The problems of hierarchy, yet the absence of structure is equally troubling.
The boys, obeying the sergeant, clear out the beaches to the best of their abilities. The German soldiers who laid the mines, also quite frankly, obeyed their superiors. It’s an extremely twisted and provocative way of questioning whether there is any sense of logic in war. Numbers, code names, strategies and great heroic tales of valiant soldiers saving an entire platoon or blowing up a bunker that is literally manslaughter, all make war seem like a justified play.
Whether they matter altogether could be a topic for another movie. However the film ends with the sergeant somehow managing to get the four remaining German boys out of their second post, yelling at them to run into the woods, until they reach their motherland. All he can hope is that the woods are clear of mines. Returning to the sergeant, one can only wonder what happened to the man who went against the high command. Altruism can be a crime not only during a war but after one as well.
The generation that has lost the right to mourn, yet had so much life reserved in them, only to be wasted away in seeing all the wrongs in the world and yet pressured on to adopt and adapt to the world of political correctness. Zandvliet seems to say, blame the country, but blame the people more, because perhaps they really did mean what they have done. But we’re hit hard, as we have nothing and no one to blame for at the end, but ourselves.