Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Released this week on DVD: "Flame & Citron"


Grade: B

More than 60 years after the end of hostilities, filmmakers are still mining the Second World War for drama.

Peopled by lonely resistance fighters, double-crossing secret agents and murderous Nazis, the Danish film Flame & Citron has many elements of a very familiar formula, albeit one made freshly exotic by its bleached Scandinavian locale. But to suggest this is a run-of-the-mill war movie would do an injustice to its greatest strength, its portrayal of two conflicted idealists soldiering on a slippery slope. The film, based on the true stories of Danish resistance heroes Brent Faurschou-Hviid and Jorgen Haagen Schmith, is a satisfying thriller interestingly complicated by its study of character and compromise.

Bent and Jorgen are a team, known by their code names Flame and Citron, but their personalities could not be more different. Flame (Thure Lindhardt) is the chillingly cold killer, executing Danish Nazis, informers and collaborators as smoothly as he lights his cigarette. Citron (Mads Mikkelsen) is all twitchy and jumpy, popping pills to keep himself awake, although after a heroic bout of sabotage and smuggling, his current job mainly requires him to drive Flame's getaway car. In a country where acquiescence to the Nazi occupier has been the order of the day, Flame and Citron are both convinced that what they are doing is only right.

But is it? Their commander Winther (Peter Mygind), a Copenhagen police solicitor who reports to British intelligence, now orders them to kill a local German journalist, his secretary and a German officer, all supposedly engaged in espionage. Flame questions the order -- to avoid Nazi retaliation, the resisters don't usually target Germans -- but does take on the mission. Flame asks Citron to shoot the secretary because the seemingly imperturbable Flame does not kill women. That throws the more sensitive character into a quandary: The seemingly undefeatable Citron has never killed.

Director Ole Christian Madsen now follows two stories. The first, of Citron's increasing doubts about the morality and legality of what he is doing as he abandons his wife and daughter to another man and becomes a killer in his turn, is by far the subtler, greatly enlivened by Mikkelsen's success in portraying this odd bundle of nerves and courage.

Meanwhile Flame meets fashion designer Ketty Selmer (Stine Stengade) in a bar and wonders how she knows his real name. She says she's a resister; Winther warns him she's an informer, but when Flame confronts her, she reveals layers of betrayal he can barely comprehend. The romance between them, predictable in a James Bond kind of way, is the weakest link in the script by Madsen and Lars Andersen. As is often the case in spy stories, it is hard to believe these cool characters are capable of love. Stengade certainly can't explain whether Ketty's attraction for Flame is genuine or not.

And Lindhardt is much better when simply asking us to accept Flame's insouciance at face value: The man can't be bothered to cover his chief distinguishing feature, the red hair that gives him his name, even as the Gestapo doubles the price on his head. Rightfully, Lindhardt doesn't feel the character's actions should be justified. The script's attempt to psychoanalyze in a scene where Flame recounts his experiences working in a German restaurant where a Jewish waitress was beaten -- was she his girlfriend, Ketty has to ask -- is painfully unnecessary.

Flame and Citron did not meet their end together. That is history to which Madsen remains true, even if it deprives his film of the single powerful conclusion it needed to really cash in on this pair as the Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid of Denmark's war. Instead, they remain an imperfectly matched duo, and all the more fascinating for it.

No comments: