Land of Mine (Under Sandet), the Danish film nominated for best foreign film at the Oscars 2017, follows a Danish sergeant who commands a troop of former German soldiers as they clear mines from the Skallingen Peninsula.
The film is a well-reviewed but controversial box office hit in Scandinavia and Europe that also scored three European Film Awards.
Director Martin Zandvliet and producer Mikael Rieks say the film should be a warning sign of the dangers of European disunion. “It kind of scares me because in the beginning, the movie was about the way I saw our nation portraying itself,” Zandvliet says of the response to the film in Europe. “But it also was about the things going on in Europe, about closing down Europe, talking about building a wall around Europe and not letting the Syrian refugees in.”
For the first few years after Denmark was invaded by German forces in April 1940, the Danish government chose to negotiate and cooperate with its German occupiers to avoid further aggression and hardship, and Danish government opposition only began in earnest in 1943 once Germany cracked down on civil unrest and made moves to deport Denmark’s Jews.
“Unfortunately this small, local story feels more global and more relevant than ever,” says Zandvliet.
“It is very, very important to note that the longest period of peace in European history has been the past 70 years, because nations are united. United Nations, United States, United Europe, and now we are afraid this will all go up in smoke and close our borders. That is why I think on a very local scale this movie is very global,” says producer Mikael Rieks.
When the war ended in 1945, millions of deadly, undetonated mines remained, along with the question of who would clear them—and how.
In the film, more than 2,000 former German POWs crawl on their stomachs across the beach, gently prodding the sand to remove over 1.5 million landmines without risking a direct impact. The prisoners depicted by director Martin Zandvliet are not well-trained, well-fed, or well-taken care of, and their hunger makes for shaky hands, their illness for delirium. These prisoners, as the film emphasizes, were not hardened Nazis. In reality, the majority of the POWs made to do this labor were teenage boys or elderly men, who were part of the Volkssturm, the national militia conscripted in the last years of the war to mount an all-out defense against the Allied invasion. For every 5,000 defused mines, one soldier was killed.
Danish Movie – A Warning Sign for Europe, written by Tor Kjolberg