First Hit: An excellent, amazingly strong and difficult story to watch.
The Germans planted more than 2,000,000 mines on Denmark beaches in anticipation of an Allied landing. Upon the ending of the war, the Danish were given about 2,000 German, mostly young teen-age prisoners to find and diffuse these mines. Given the atrocities of the Germans, there is no love lost between these two countries or the people.
The first scene is a setup to this point because we see Sgt. Carl Rasmussen (Roland Moller) watching German prisoners walk down a Danish road, when he spies one carrying a Danish flag. He gets up out of his jeep and beats this man mercilessly. Any of the other prisoners eyeballing him doing this, get beat as well.
A short time later he’s assigned about 16 of these young inexperienced boys to manually find, dig up, and defuse 45,000 mines on a section of beach. They are told, if they do this they will get to go home.
The film goes to long lengths to show the high level of animosity the Dane’s have for these Germans. The Germans ruined their country and the Danes expect them to fix what they can before they leave or get killed, either outcome is OK with the Danes.
As they start clearing the beach, there are accidents and mines go off and people hurt. For me, the most difficult part of watching this film was waiting for the inevitable to happen. There were times I held my hand up to my eyes in anticipation of an explosion. However, the filmmaker and director didn’t use the tried and tested “third” time for the accident, which added to the intensity of the film.
At some point, Rasmussen begins to care about these innocent young boys and goes out to find them food. He develops and respectful friendship with Sebastian Schumann (Louis Hoffmann) who is enterprising, resourceful, and a natural born leader of these German youth. One of the more difficult parts for Rasmussen is the man he works for, Lieutenant Ebbe (Mikkel Folsgaard), who wants Rasmussen to be very hard line and mean to these young German men they depend on to defuse the mines.
The cinematography of this film is extraordinary. The pacing, growth and changes in all the characters is fantastic. The beautiful starkness of the Danish coastline was remarkable as the setting. The questions this film creates are perfect. Questions like, is it better to befriend the Germans to get the job done better? Or is it better to treat them like slaves and dirt to support their anger? There are interesting questions brought up by this film and I enjoyed having them dance through my mind as I watched this strong well-done film.
Moller was perfect and captivating as the Sgt. in charge of these lost youth. Folsgaard was perfect as the young, arrogant and single-minded Lieutenant. Hoffmann was sublime as the young German soldier who was a natural born leader. Laura Bo as Karen, the local woman whose farm they worked near, was wonderful. Her anger towards the Germans was perfect as was her gratefulness for them saving her daughter. All of the German soldier cast were perfect, especially Emil and Oskar Belton as twins Ernst and Werner Lessner who embodied both trust and angst in their path moving forward. Martin Zandvliet wrote and directed this film with a perfect eye and feel for the time and the internal struggles for all the characters.
Overall: This was one of the best films I’ve seen in the past year. It deserved its 2016 nomination for Best Foreign Film.