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Thure Lindhardt, left, & Mads Mikkelsen (Photo: IFC Films)

Directed by
Ole Christian Madsen
Produced by
Lars Bredo Rahbek
Written by Lars K. Andersen & Madsen
Released by IFC Films
Lars K. Andersen & Madsen
Denmark. 130 min. Not Rated
Thure Lindhardt, Mads Mikkelsen, Stine Stengade, Hanns Zischler, Christian Berkel, Mille Hoffmeyer Lehfeldt & Peter Mygind  

“Do you remember April 9, 1940?” is the opening rumination in Flame & Citron. German tanks roll into Copenhagen, seen in black-and-white-footage, grimly illustrating the date the Nazis invaded Denmark. While Americans’ knowledge of the Danes’ experiences during World War II may be limited to the ferrying of most of the Jewish population to neutral Sweden in 1943, this film takes a fresh look at what happened next.

Based on co-writer Lars K. Andersen’s research and interviews with survivors and witnesses (most accounts in English are long out of print), director Ole Christian Madsen adds a dark Scandinavian viewpoint to the trove of new European films reconsidering this period (such as Paul Verhoeven’s Black Book, Max Färberböck’s A Woman in Berlin, and Andrzej Wajda’s Katyn). Together with the wider rerelease of older features, like Jean-Pierre Melville’s Army of Shadows, they go beyond just evil Nazis vs. brave resistance fighters. Life during wartime is seen as the precursor to the postwar noir of Graham Greene’s The Third Man and the cynicism of John le Carré’s spies.

Young Bent Faurschou-Hviid (a sensational Thure Lindhardt) is nicknamed Flame for the red hair that he only reluctantly hides under hats when the price on his head rises for his brazen assassinations of Danish collaborators. His partner is the older, stolid Jorgen Haagen Schmith (Mads Mikkelsen, a master at portraying stoics boiling under pressure), nicknamed Citron for his earlier sabotage while working at a Citroën factory. Flame is single, troubled by his student days in Germany watching the Nazis’ rise to power and by his father’s passivity. Citron, married with a small daughter, is too consumed by his mission to spend time with his family or even sleep.

The resistance targets the hundreds of collaborators to avoid retributions for killing Germans. The camera closely follows the pair as they receive their orders from their cell leader, Winther (Peter Mygind), dispassionately plan each assigned execution, and methodically carry them out, sometimes in broad daylight. The more flamboyant Flame is the pointblank shooter and the tightly wound, bespectacled Citron is his wheelman.

As losses at the battles of Stalingrad and El-Alamein puncture Nazi invulnerability and hints of Allied invasion are in the air, the pair becomes frustrated at not being allowed to attack the local Gestapo chief. The duo chafe at Winther’s orders as they get more and more tangled in the competing priorities of German, Swedish, and British intelligence agents protecting their own future interests, and they become ever more paranoid of informers.

Even as they despair at becoming killing machines, the political becomes personal. Every victim pleads innocence, and they probably all lie. A tense cat-and-mouse hunt in a dark basement becomes a psychological chase as their Mephistophelian target taunts them that they are being used for purposes other than Danish nationalism. Here for the first time, Flame hesitates. Then, for the first time, Citron takes up a gun. Flame’s defenses are further compromised by Winther’s beautiful courier, Ketty (Stine Stengade), who may be changing her loyalties as often as her wigs. While she is the usual femme fatale, she is also a harbinger for the mixed motives and crossed alliances that entangle the men.

Feeling used and abused by corruption and complicity (and it does get confusing), the pair decide on their own to ratchet up their attacks on targets of their own choosing. In trusting only each other, their bonding is a no-frills male friendship to fight against impossible odds. While the climax of the Nazis’ brutal and extended retaliation against them and their compatriots is filmed as more conventionally heroic, it is stirringly vivid.

In making what is reputed to be one of the most expensive, and successful, Danish films, the director reteams with actors Mikkelsen and Stengade and cinematographer Jorgen Johansson from his most recent film, the contemporary Prague. Madsen beautifully sustains that intimacy but places it within a period look and an epic backdrop.  Nora Lee Mandel
July 31, 2009



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