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Sergeant Rasmussen (Roland Moller) inspects his troops

“LAND OF MINE” My rating: B  (Opens March 31 at the Glenwood Arts)

100  minutes | MPAA rating:R

Despite a punny title that smacks of cheap humor, “Land of Mine” emerges as a quiet heartbreaker, a fact-based drama about war and youth and shared humanity.

Writer/director Martin Zandvliet based his screenplay on a real bit of Danish history:  At the end of World War II Denmark’s beaches were peppered with more than 2 million landmines, placed by the occupying Nazis in anticipation of an  invasion that never came (the Allies hit Normandy instead).

With the end of hostilities the Danes faced a monumental and tremendously dangerous cleanup effort.  Their solution was to delay the repatriation of German POWs, putting the prisoners to work defusing the mines.  If some of them got blown sky-high, so what?  The Nazis put them there in the first place.

Zandvliet’s film concentrates on one of these beach-clearing crews.  Fourteen Germans — they’re mere teens — are assigned to work under the direction of Sergeant Rasmussen (Roland Moller), a spit-and-polish Danish paratrooper whose hatred of the Krauts still burns fiercely.  In the film’s first scene Rasmussen physically attacks Germans  POWs wearily marching down a muddy road.

Once they’ve undergone rudimentary training in bomb disposal, these youngsters face a beach packed with several thousand land mines. They will spend their days probing for buried explosives, and their nights locked in a shack.

It soon becomes apparent that the Danish high command cares not one bit about the fate of these kids.  For days they are denied food; finally grumpy Sergeant Rasmussen appropriates bread and potatoes from a military supply depot.  Men too weak to walk to the beach aren’t going to defuse many bombs.

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