J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Danish Resistance: Flame & Citron

For the underground resistance of WWII, betrayal and treachery were constant companions during the clandestine struggle against their Nazi occupiers. This will hardly come as a revelation to those who have seen Jean-Pierre Melville’s Army of Shadows, but it comes as a nasty shock to the heroic real-life protagonists of Ole Christian Madsen’s Flame & Citron (trailer here), which opens in New York this Friday.

Flame and Citron were the code names of the two most celebrated members of the Danish resistance movement. With his bright red hair, Bent Faurschou-Hviid’s alias was obviously quite fitting. The less conspicuous Jørgen Haagen Schmith was known as Citron (or “The Lemon”) because of his work as a Citroën mechanic. One was the disillusioned son of middle-class respectability, while the other was a working class family man. Yet for both men, the 1944 invasion would drive them commit extraordinary acts of courage. They also quickly discovered they had a distinct talent for killing Germans.

As we watch them in action, Flame is usually the triggerman and Citron is the driver, but in a pinch, they can improvise. However, they might be too good at what they do, or at least their superiors in the resistance seem to think so. Though radically different personality types, Flame and Citron were true freedom fighters and patriots. Unfortunately, while they saw the war in absolute black-and-white terms, those around them (at least in the film) were living in the grey areas, working the angles and figuring the percentages. Eventually, the two partners come to question their comrades, trusting only themselves.

Thure Lindhardt and Mads Mikkelsen (best known as the villain from Casino Royale) are both dynamite as the reckless Flame and the tightly-wound Citron, respectively. They display a riveting, sometimes even uncomfortably intense screen presence that makes their selfless dedication perfectly believable in the dramatic context of the film. They are nicely counterbalanced by a great screen nemesis, Hoffman the Mephistophelean Gestapo chief played with icy zeal by Christian Berkel.

With its double and triple-crosses coming fast is furious, F&C is an engrossing historical thriller, yet somehow it still has that cool Scandinavian vibe. Madsen stages the film’s action sequences with gritty realism and Jette Lehmann’s remarkable production design convincingly recreates the stark look and feel of occupied Denmark. In fact Madsen and Lars K. Andersen’s script may well change how some people think of Scandinavia in general. After all, while Flame and Citron were doggedly fighting the National Socialists, we see scrupulously neutral Sweden serving as a non-aligned playground for spies of both sides.

With its effective framing narration, F&C makes it clear that history often demands a choosing of sides, while refusing to take such a stand is itself a de facto choice with moral implications. Eventually awarded U.S. Medal of Freedoms (posthumously), Flame and Citron are now recognized as heroes for the decisions they made. Simply as a story of war and intricate intrigue, F&C is compelling cinema. It is also a darkly fascinating look at an aspect of the war not often seen on movie screens. It opens this Friday (7/31) at the Lincoln Plaza and Sunshine Theaters.

Labels: , ,