Under Sandet/Land of Mine (Martin Zandvliet, Denmark/Germany, 2015
Impressive Danish drama covers the German boy soldiers allocated to clearing mines from Danish beaches post WW2, the Germans having decided that this was going to be the spot for the Allied landings.
We kick off with brutal Danish Sergeant Møller beating the bejesus out of one of the straggling line of German prisoners, because he is carrying a flag. We get into the scene of training officer Mikkel Boe Følsgaard working with teenage German prisoners whom he shows how to dismantle German land mines, sending them into the sand bagged shelter to work with live explosives - already suspenseful.
They are allocated to a beach under the supervision of Sgt. Møller who shows them no sympathy, locking them in at night and ignoring their suggestions. The big ask is making his attitude soften plausibly and that is the strength of what is a remarkable film.
Unfed for days when the local farmer doesn’t deliver, one sneaks out to steal feed from the cattle barn and they are struck down by rat poisoning. The farm lady is delighted that she looks as she has killed Germans and Følsgaard re-appears bringing military mates to pee on the kids. Møller urges restraint, claiming to need the boys for his work but he’s been stealing bread and potatoes from the hospital canteen (“For me and my dog”) to keep them going as he realises the dreadful situation he has with boys who still cry for their mothers in a crisis.
This unnatural alliance and (big ask) Møller’s humanity are tested in what is an extraordinarily strong development. Subdued colour and film making that showcases the strong performances.
It’s hard to not make a mine clearing subject tense. Think the Powell & Pressberger The Small Back Room and Robert Aldrich’s Ten Seconds to Hell. Martin Zandvliet meets this expectation and goes further.
The actual procedure has been condemned as a war crime but I can't help wondering what else the Danes were going to do about those mines.
Jättiläinen/The Mine (Aleksi Salmenpera, Finland, 2015)
Aleksi Salmenperä's Finnish account of the environmental disaster the giant Talvivaara Zinc-Uranium project represented kicks off like an early Ken Loach drama doc.
The predictable narrative shows skullduggery at board room level, where having got the better of a conglomerate in a business deal makes them retaliate with patent monopoly and an impossible schedule.
Harassed Environmental Analyst Joonas Saartamo has a job monitoring the company struggling to meet the deadline. He’s inducted into their pot smoking hunting club and finds himself squeezed by his employers and his critical wife. The back channel dialogue with the fetching blonde ecologist doesn’t
Calamities ensue naturally - sulphates in the water, heavy rain spilling contaminates into inadequate man made dams and spreading to waterways. Saartamo emerges as a glum fellow by comparison with his boss or the buccaneering company head whom the tension puts in hospital. I found myself dozing.
The final stages where the consequences play out as part of a police investigation are more interesting - the threat of drug tests, the alternative spot with a Gold Mining company snatched away by a colleague, a pay off offered across the corporate board room table loaded with fruit platters (“I should never have come”) and the suspicious off-the-hook ending.
The washed out colour scheme is becoming familiar in the festival’s movies. The trailers seem to have fuller tones.