It’s Mine Awareness Day; and 10 poor victims will be caught unawares

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In Land of Mine, the second world war has just ended but young German prisoners are kept on to clear Denmark’s beaches of 1.4 million landmines. The fatalities were horrendous.

Today, April 4, is International Mine Awareness Day, as designated by the United Nations. I mention this for two reasons. First, there is a fantastic new film on the topic, Land of Mine (a finalist in the Oscars this year), and I was telling my friends in Romance-language speaking countries about it – the related vocabulary is further down this post. Second, the film brought back memories of my own experience in this regard – in my youth in Africa I was once on the back of a truck that detonated a landmine. Fortunately it was a reinforced vehicle and the injuries were minimal. It’s far worse if you tread on one.

Landmines may seem like a thing of the past but here are some facts that will shock you.

  • In 64 countries around the world, there are an estimated 110 million undetonated
    landmines still lodged in the ground.
  • Since 1975, landmines have killed or maimed more than one million people.
  • On average, 10 people die every day due to landmine blasts.
  • Even with training, mine disposal experts expect that for every 5000 mines cleared,
    one worker will be killed and two workers will be injured by accidental explosions.

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These details came from the press kit for Land Of Mine, which has just opened in Australia. The Danish mine-clearing campaign was shocking for a number of reasons.

  • It was a violation of the 1929 Convention relating to the Treatment of Prisoners of War.
  • An estimated 2600 POWS were forced to do it. Some were as young as 13.
  • Half of them were killed or injured.

So much for the grim statistics. The film is marvellous and uplifting for the way it shows how, even in the tensest of times, it is possible to break down enmities, to see a friend instead of a a foe – something that I wish political fanatics and bigots all over the world could do today. Do see the movie if you can.

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VOCABULARY

How do you say “landmine” and “to explode” in my five Romance languages?

  • In French, mine terrestre; exploser
  • In Italian, mina terrestreesplodere
  • In Portuguese, mina terrestre; explodir
  • In Romanian, mină terestră or mină de uscat. (When I asked a Romanian friend he said “something like teren minat” but that’s his story.) a exploda, a detona
  • In Spanish, mina de tierra, hacer volar/estaliar/explotar

Photographs supplied courtesy of Palace Films.

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Highlights from the French Film festival – and a Danish gem

In Australia the 2017 Alliance Française French Film Festival is in full swing, and I have been trying to immerse myself in it as much as I can in my spare time. By coincidence or not, I have mostly been cast back in time to the Second World War. I guess it is a period in history that still fascinates, and still nags at our conscience. It produced so many dramatic stories showing the best and the worst of humanity – heroism, cruelty, hate, bravery, love and compassion –  that we can now get to see in the comfort of a cinema, unlike the poor souls who had to live (if they were lucky) through such ordeals.

Here is what I have enjoyed so far.

Planetarium

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Lily-Rose Depp and Natalie Portman share a sisterly smoke in Planetarium

Planetarium is set in prewar Paris. Lily-Rose Depp and Natalie Portman star as two broke American sisters who hold seances with the dead.  Initially you suspect they are charlatans. But when they conduct a seance for a wealthy movie producer (played by Emmanuel Salinger) it seems someone from the dead wants to strangle him, and nearly succeeds. And he seems to find this erotic, and becomes fascinated with the whole process! And so we venture into the strange world of the dead and the decadent world of the 1930s European elite, until the war looms and things get sinister. Visually, it’s an enthralling spectacle.

The film starts off as a mix of English and French, but as the two sisters (newly arrived from Berlin) get more fluent in the local language, the English fades away.

A Bag Of Marbles

Tournage Un sac de Billes

A lighter moment by the seaside for the young heroes of A Bag of Marbles.

This is a great new film based on Un Sac De Billes, the memoirs of Joseph Joffo – a film of the same name was made in 1975, two years after the book was published. It tells the hair-raising and harrowing story of two brothers Joseph, 12, (played superbly by Dorian Le Clech), and Maurice, 17 (Batyste Fleurial). Being Jewish, they have to flee Nazi-occupied Paris for the demilitarised zone in the south, getting separated from their family in the process, but as the war progresses, so do the perils.

When we came out of the cinema, I heard a mother ask her teenage son what he thought of the film. “It was fantastic, really fantastic,” was the reply. I couldn’t agree more.

Land of Mine

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Not so fun times on the beach in Land of Mine.

Still on the Second World War two theme, at the cinema there was also a preview screening of the Danish film Land of Mine, which was a finalist in the Best Foreign Film category at the Oscars this year. It too is fantastic, really gripping. Young German prisoners have to stay on in Denmark in the immediate aftermath of the war, clearing all the landmines on the beaches. Explosive stuff. It opens in Australia on March 30.

Don’t miss out

The French Film Festival is Australia’s largest foreign language film festival, and this year is the 28th in its history.

  • Sydney (March 7-30)
  • Melbourne (March 8-30)
  • Canberra (March 9-April 4)
  • Perth (March 15-April 5)
  • Brisbane (March 16-April 9)
  • Adelaide (March 30-April 23)
  • Hobart (March 30-April 8)
  • Parramatta (April 6-9)
  • Casula (April 8-9)

Photographs supplied courtesy of the 2017 Alliance Française French Film Festival and Palace Films.