MM: Contrary to what one would expect in a film with such heavy circumstances, the cinematography stands out because of how bright and beautiful it is. It contrasts with the film’s themes. Tell us about this decision-making process alongside your DP.
MZ: The DP is my wife, Camilia Hjelm, and she is an extraordinary woman. When you are husband and wife, you know each other so well that there are things we don’t have to talk about, but we knew that we needed to create a 15th character out of the beach, so to speak. We wanted to create something like a theater stage out of that beach so when you, as the audience, come down to it, you feel a part of it. It had to be intense when you get down there. We have no record of the weather back then, if it was good weather or the sun was shining. We wanted the film to be beautifully shot and for danger to be lying underneath, because it was humans who ruined nature. Nature itself is beautiful. It’s us, humans, who ruin it. I also think it would have been unbearable to watch if it had been raining for 90 minutes and also having them digging up mines. We are both in love with faces and light. We just shot a new film, and we find the ways you can use natural light very interestingly.
MM: One of the most fascinating aspects about Land of Mine is that you do so much with so few elements. It seems that, as is often the case, less is more. Without the grand battle sequences we see in war film, the film really becomes about the characters’ experiences.
MZ: I think filmmakers, including myself, should remember that it’s the small things and the simplicity of things that actually make a story bigger. I didn’t try to make a global story; I just tried to make a local story, and the more local it became the more interesting it became for the world to watch it. I didn’t watch war movies at all to prepare for this, but I watched Lawrence of Arabia because I wanted to see how they actually used close-ups in a setting where you only have the sand and the sky. You need to think about framing. “Where is the face? Where are the lines in the shot?” There are no buildings. There are only the dunes and the light.
MM: Are there any specific films about war that you referred to when developing this film? What was it about them that influenced you?
MZ: My favorite war films could be Apocalypse Now or The Deer Hunter, but they are not really about war. It’s most interesting when it’s about the humans in the war. Land of Mine is about the dilemma a man is caught in, and I also tried to put in a father-figure story. These boys have been cheated by their own fathers. They have been brainwashed. Germany is called the “Fatherland,” and this father or country abandoned them, killed himself, and let the boys on their own. Now they are stuck there with all the guilt and shame, and nobody to take care of them. Then there is this brutal guy, the sergeant, and all these boys need is a new father and new guidelines. That’s more interesting than war itself. MM
Land of Mine opened in theaters February 10, 2017, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.