Land Of Mine (Under Sandet)
Written and Directed by Martin Zandvliet | 100 min
It was announced the other day that Land of Mine will be the Danish submission for consideration as the Best Foreign Language film at next year’s Academy Awards. (So was A Man Called Ove last week declared for Sweden, making today a Scandinavian double-feature of potential Oscar winners. More about Ove below.)
Land of Mine is another clever low-budget feature with only one major location: a beach in Denmark. It’s the closing days of World War II and a troop of young German soldiers, captured by the Danes, are forced to disarm a beach full of 45,000 landmines. These Germans are basically boys. They’ve been promised they can go home once the job is done, but how likely is that? Will they live through their task? And will the Danish military keep its promise with many more beaches full of mines to be secured?
As Sgt. Rasmussen, the Danish veteran in charge of motivating these soldiers, Roland Møller is especially fine as he softens from utter contempt for his charges to a kind of caring, and Louis Hofmann puts a steely gaze to good use as Schumann, the erstwhile leader of the young German recruits. The film delivers the requisite tension and war-is-hell ethos, punctuated by the periodic, inevitable explosions.
My Life So Far
Directed by Alan Collins | 40 min
Not the Colin Firth drama, this could have easily been called Her Life So Far, as director and producer of this short documentary are Collins and Violet Rosengarten, and the subject their daughter, Cassandre. But what a subject: she’s a delightful presence in their film.
Cassandre was adopted from an orphanage in Haiti in 1996, and Collins directed a film about that experience, which screened in the late-90s on the CBC. This film is largely about Cassandre’s return to Haiti in 2012, spliced with footage from the original—as a two-year-old she was less than enthusiastic about the coming change in her life—and from her growing up in Dartmouth. As a teen she became a track star, so there’s material dedicated to her passion and achievement there.
Given the access, this intimate, family doc feels like a more casual, less political instalment of Michael Apted’s Up series. In seven years I’d like to see another. Will Cassandre return to Haiti to marry? Will she ever connect with her birth mother? Will she become a Mountie?
A Man Called Ove
Directed by Hannes Holm | Written by Holm from a novel by Fredrik Backman | 116 min
A delightfully dark comedy, the film tells the story of Ove (Rolf Lassgård), a curmudgeonly man approaching 60 who lives in a tight little rural community and is a stickler for rules and regulations (a “nit-picking obstructionist” is how he’s described by one character). He’s constantly annoyed at others’ shortcomings and perpetually angry.
He’s also determined to kill himself at the earliest opportunity, though his efforts are constantly being interrupted by neighbours. The fact of it is he misses his recently deceased wife, and figures the sooner he’s dead the sooner he can be with her again. In his frequent suicide attempts, he flashes back to his childhood and youth when he and his wife first met, but most of our time is spent with the irascible elder Ove as he terrorizes his community, slowly growing a bond with the woman next door (Bahar Pars).
A pure crowdpleaser, this tale of a Swedish Scrooge delves deeply into Ove’s misery and self-pity, but spikes it with a lot of humour, too—the bit about Saab owners versus Volvo owners is hilarious. If there was any justice, a film like this would be a huge hit in cinemas across North America—if only audiences weren’t put off by a few subtitles. Hollywood has forgotten how to make is fall in love with characters like Ove. It’s a good thing someone hasn’t.
Directed by Mick Jackson | Written by David Hare | 110 min
A dramatic telling of the well-publicized story of American historian Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) who was sued for libel by Holocaust denier David Irving (Timothy Spall) when she wrote a few nasty things about him in a book. The resulting trial in London drew plenty of press and gave Irving the attention he craved, while the relative truth of the Holocaust was discussed in the courtroom, along with Irving’s professional credibility.
All this has the makings of a relevant, gripping courtroom drama, especially at a time when other scientifically asserted facts, like climate change, are being disputed in certain circles, and other public characters, like Trump, are lying to suit their own interests. And with famed playwright Hare providing the script, journeyman Jackson behind the camera, and Oscar-winner Weisz in the lead, all this seems on paper to be a good mix of creatives. Then why is it such a disappointingly uninspired film?
First off, and this is not something I’ve ever written before: Weisz is miscast. The otherwise talented performer sports a terrible red wig and wrestles with a broad American accent—she jokes at one point she’s from Queens, but that’s very hard to believe. The role needs more brass, more bold, while Weisz is pointed and fine. Beyond that, the script feels frequently obvious, plumped with syrupy strings and strangely shot—the frequent close-ups of Weisz’s face as she jogs are weird and jarring. A trip to Auschwitz is especially tone-deaf; the landscape covered by terrible fake snow, with the actors’ breath not even visible. These might seem nit-picky production details, but it speaks to the film’s slapdash approach.
There are moments that work: The courtroom scenes have some zip, thanks largely to Spall’s hissable villain, and Tom Wilkinson and Andrew Scott are both solid as part of Lipstadt’s legal team. But this ham-fisted tale is too hokey to get near its potential.