Flame & Citron

Flame & Citron (2008)
★★★ / ★★★★

Bent Faurschou-Hviid (Thure Lindhardt) and Jørgen Haagen Schmith (Mads Mikkelsen), known as Flame and Citron, join the Holger Danske resistance group during the Nazi takeover of Copenhagen. Under the command of Aksel Winther (Peter Mygind), a police solicitor, who claims to have connections with the British Intelligence, Flame and Citron carry out assassinations of both important Nazi officials and those believed to be working for them. Although the tasks appear to be straightforward and the duo are good at what they do, Bent meeting a woman named Ketty Selmer (Stine Stengade) becomes a catalyst for distractions and doubts toward their superiors.

Directed by Ole Christian Madsen, “Flammen & Citronen” traverses the very fine line between the Nazi occupation and the romanticizing of a dark time in history. It is executed with elegance and high level of watchability which creates a highly compelling experience.

Part of the anticipation is reflected by the events that occur on screen. As someone who does not know much about the real people from which the protagonists are based upon, I wondered if or when they would fall into the booby traps of bureaucracies within their group as well as the inner turmoil they grapple with as the lines between right and wrong in connection to the killings they commit begin to blur. The other part is whether the picture will slip toward inappropriateness by idealizing or diminishing the horrors of World War II through beautiful images, like the fine details of someone’s clothing or how smoke from a cigarette dances around the unsaid.

Despite a bright cinematography, the film simmers with paranoia. The presence of the Gestapo is a threat that looms with the scenes set outdoors. Bent being on the Most Wanted list by the Nazis, he does not exactly blend in with his red hair. We get the feeling that a well-informed member of the party might go up to him at any time, start asking the right questions, and it will all be over. Indoors is not a place of comfort either. Although the resistance has secret meetings, there is always a possibility that there is a traitor in their midst. Suspicions are amplified when Bent goes up to Ketty, introduces himself under a pseudonym, but she just happens to know his real name.

The casting proves paramount if we are to believe the hard and soft sides of Bent and Jørgen. Lindhardt and Mikkelsen have the right look. Observing their physical statures and ability to cast piercing glares at a moment’s notice, it is easy to believe that their characters are very intelligent and can kill on command. I liked that the director provides the necessary close-ups prior to an execution because the technique communicates that duo are not machines. They are people who must set aside the black-and-white definitions of right and wrong temporarily and perform an action for the benefit of their country as well as their personal beliefs about the Nazis and the war.

On the other hand, the actors are equally capable of playing the opposite side of the spectrum in terms of delivering emotions in order to make their characters more human. Of particular importance is the subplot involving Jørgen’s feelings of shame, frustration, and anger for not being able to provide for his wife and daughter. These same feelings complement his attitudes toward the nature of what he does for the cause. He finds being there for his family and fighting for his country rewarding, but the two almost have a parasitic relationship.

With its level of work, “Flame and Citron,” written by Lars Andersen and Ole Christian Madsen, might have had more impact if it had been a six- to eight-hour miniseries. It feels like it has plenty more stories to tell because each new character that graces the screen offers a specific perspective. In the attempt to get them all into its limited two-hour mark, details are introduced and taken out just as quickly which breed slight confusion. Despite this shortcoming, however, the material remains riveting.

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