Lucy Popescu

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Posts Tagged ‘Joel Basman’

Film Review – Land of Mine

Posted by lucypopescu on August 4, 2017


Inspired by real events in 1945, Martin Zandvliet’s powerful film about Denmark’s treatment of German prisoners demonstrates that war’s aftermath can be just as brutal as the conflict itself. Fearful of an allied invasion, Nazi forces left behind two million landmines on Denmark’s Western coast and German prisoners of war were forced to defuse and clear the mines in violation of the 1929 Convention relating to the treatment of PoW.  Even more shocking, many of these prisoners were inexperienced youths who had seen little of war, some as young as thirteen.

Land of Mine opens with a brutal scene, which sets the tone for its first half.  Danish veteran Sergeant, Carl Rasmussen (Roland Moller) picks on a German solider and smashes his face in because he is carrying a Danish flag. His hatred and contempt is palpable. Accompanied everywhere by his beloved dog Otto, whose company he evidently prefers to human contact, Rasmussen is initially sadistic and cruel towards the captives, denying them food, taunting and beating them. But it is a rite of passage for the sergeant. Gradually he softens towards the boys, finds them food at the risk of his reputation, and even plays football with then on a rare day off. Rasmussen promises them their freedom and release back to Germany after they have cleared all the mines, but another officer, Lieutenant Ebbe Jensen (Mikkel Boe Folsgaard), has different ideas. Things come to a head between the two men when Ebbe refuses to release the survivors.

Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2017 Academy Awards, Land of Mine is not your average war film. While there is impressive attention to historical detail, and plenty of action, it is the quieter moments that remain with you. Zandvliet focuses on the harrowing experiences of the young prisoners and their shared humanity. The boys’ terror, combined with their hope for a better future, is heartbreakingly sad and the inevitable scenes of bloodshed and violence are sometimes unbearable to watch. Camilla Hjelm Knudsen’s cinematography is remarkable. Picturesque shots of the coast line and scenes of stark natural beauty are in sharp contrast to the appalling conditions endured by the POWs and the shots of abrupt explosions that sever limbs and lives.

The two Danish leads are terrific and there are some equally great performances from the German camp. Particularly memorable are Louis Hoffman who plays Sebastian, the de facto leader of the captives, Joel Basman as the hot headed Helmut and Emil and Oskar Belton as the two youngest members of the group, twin brothers Ernst and Werner, who can’t function without each other. Land of Mine serves as a poignant reminder that revenge destroys more than it satisfies and compassion aids the healing process.

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Berlinale- Film Review: As We Were Dreaming

Posted by lucypopescu on February 19, 2015

As we were dreamingAs We Were Dreaming (Als wir träumten), a coming of age story about a group of friends growing up in Leipzig, is German director Andreas Dresen’s competition entry for the Bear adapted by Wolfgang Kohlhaase from Clemens Meyer’s award-winning novel of the same name. As the film opens, Dani (Merlin Rose) is looking for his friend Mark (Joel Basman) in an abandoned cinema. We then travel back in time to their recent past. The wall has fallen and East and West have recently reunited. Dani, Mark,  Paul (Frederic Haselon), Pitbull (Marcel Heuperman) and Rico (Julius Nitschkoff) run riot every night, drinking, stealing, hotwiring cars and smashing them up. Through a series of flashbacks, we learn of their school days as young Pioneers, drilled to be loyal to Socialist ideals.

As a child Dani had hoped to be a journalist, he won his school’s poetry competition, while Rico dreamed of becoming a champion boxer. As teenagers, the friends open an underground club in a dilapidated building, but a rival gang of neo-Nazi skinheads decide it’s on their patch and start kicking up a storm. Matters are further complicated because Dani is obsessed with Starlet (Ruby O. Fee) the girlfriend of the rival gang’s leader. Refusing to bow to pressure, Rico, Mark and Dani are badly beaten-up. As they grow older, things only get worse. Paul considers working in pornography and Pitbull starts dealing drugs. Dani spends time in a youth correctional facility, Mark becomes hooked on heroin.

The characters’ lives are evidently meant to reflect reality for poorer, disadvantaged East Germans after reunification. For many, newfound freedom inevitably led to excess. Unremittingly high octane and sometimes graphically violent, As We Were Dreaming, won’t appeal to all tastes. Some audience members left during Dani’s brutal beating. As they are all proudly delinquent, it’s hard to feel sorry for any of them. Dani is the most sympathetic but he betrays his two friends when they are being chased by the gang. The zeal with which they steal and smash things up becomes depressing after a while. The narrative is punctuated with snappy chapter headings such as “Gutter Hound”, “Rivalry” and “Thunderstorm in the Brain,” but there is little else to dispel the overriding atmosphere of alienation and despair.

Meyer, born in former East Germany, has described himself as a “child of the street”. Like Dani he spent time in a youth detention facility but put his experiences to good use by penning acclaimed novels. One can’t help yearning for similar redemption for his characters, for there to have been some emotional journey worth taking, but the film’s bleak ending offers little in the way of hope. Superb performances from the young cast and Michael Hammon’s evocative camerawork are the main compensations for a relentlessly bleak story of lost youth.

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