Sunday, July 02, 2017

OVP: Land of Mine (2016)

Film: Land of Mine (2016)
Stars: Roland Moller, Louis Hofmann, Joel BAsman, Oskar Bokelmann, Emil Belton, Oskar Belton, Leon Seidel
Director: Martin Zandvliet
Oscar History: 1 nomination (Best Foreign Language Film-Denmark)
Snap Judgment Ranking: 3/5 stars

Weirdly, despite nearly finishing the 2016 entries (I know, we've got quite a few reviews still to come...I'm not even going to pretend the delay is acceptable, but know that it's always near my mind), I have only seen one of the foreign language film nominees so far.  This should be changing in the coming weeks, as I know that The Salesman and Toni Erdmann are at the very top of my Netflix queue, but as a result I actually know very little about who is going to win for me personally even if the Oscar went (politically or correctly...again, we'll soon see) to Iran's Asghar Farhadi after he was banned from the United States by Donald Trump.

(Spoilers Ahead) Our first film may be the most obscure of the five pictures, Land of Mine, one of Denmark's many successful nominees in recent years.  Denmark has been in the race 5 of the past 7 contests, won once, and was on the shortlist a year that it missed.  This is partially because Denmark keeps picking films that are exactly in Oscar's wheelhouse: legal thrillers, royalty porn, and of course war pictures, of which Land of Mine is (it's even the category's favorite war, WWII).  The film centers around a group of young German POW's who are forced to clear hundreds of land mines from a beach in Denmark, and the resulting conflict between a group of German soldiers being commanded by a Danish sergeant after such a haunting and bloody war.

The movie's script points are all familiar.  We learn about these group of young men, just outside of boyhood who have little understanding of the geopolitical ramifications of the war or really anything outside of their own hard experiences during the previous few years.  Each of them are incredibly young, 19 or 20, and after enduring something unspeakable, they are then forced to be in danger once again, most of the men dying while disarming the bombs.  The movie is not shy on showing how terrifying this action is, and how prejudice runs deep-it is indicated by pretty much everyone that they intend for these boys to die, either in the mine fields or through starvation, as they are rarely fed.  This nasty dismissal of human life, particularly from people who have seen their own children die in the war, is a central component of the film, but has been done so many times now that the "war makes people irrational" point of the picture doesn't feel new or informed, but just a sad reminder of our incapacity for empathy.

The film's well-trod territory (an unseen chapter of the war, admittedly, but at this point so much of WWII has been committed to celluloid it's hard to find a fresh angle on "war is hell"), is made up for by solid central performances, particularly by Louis Hofmann as the good-willed Sebastian and Joel Basman as the angry Ludwig.  The film is also beautifully photographed-finding ways to be intensely claustrophobic even in the open air, a tricky prospect that adds to the film's sense of impending doom, even as we're greeted by beautiful beaches and sun-dappled plains.  All-in-all, it's a film that is recognized more for its pieces than for really being original or saying something new, but it's still a compelling drama with much to offer, even if I don't think it's anywhere near the "best" of the year.

Those are my thoughts on Land of Mine-how about yours?  Anyone think that this, and not The Salesman, should have nabbed the Best Foreign Film Oscar?  Why do you think that Denmark has had such a lucky streak with AMPAS?  And which of the young actors in this film is going to be the breakout actor?  Share your thoughts below!

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