“Do you remember when they arrived? Do you remember April 9th? I think you do. Everybody does. All of a sudden, they were everywhere.”
Ole Christian Madsen’s Flame and Citron opens with newsreel footage of the Nazi Army marching into Denmark. Over black and white images of goose stepping stormtroopers, tanks slowly rolling through the streets like packs of hungry stegosaurs and Luftwaffe planes making the occupied realize they will have new gods to pray to when they look to the heavens, we hear the voice of a man. His voice is calm, but resolute. It is the voice of a man who has seen some shit and knows he has to do something about it. His way of life has been taken away from him and he knows he must do something to get it back.
I will always remember that the weather on September 11th, 2001 gave us about as beautiful a late summer day as you could imagine as I walked to my job at 2 Wall Street. I was probably thinking of flatcaps and funbags and other frivolous things. Two hours later, the skies turned blacker than the darkest corner of hell and my building’s doors were blown open by the force of those skyscrapers crumbling to the street below, shaking lower Manhattan as if a couple of tectonic plates beneath it wanted to head west for a vacation. I will never forget the sonic booms of the fighter jets overhead as I eventually made my way across the Manhattan Bridge with thousands of ash covered zombies and tourists who had gotten a bigger show than any nightmare could provide them with. We all remember exactly where we were when something cataclysmic comes down on us, fucking up our existence like vandals trashing exhibits in a museum. We all get invaded, one way or another. We either resist or become the unwilling subjects of conquistadors.
Flame and Citron is a thriller that tells the story of the Danish Resistance against the Nazi Occupation during World War II. It opens in Copenhagen in May of 1944, one month before Operation Overlord and the Allied Invasion at Normandy. We are introduced to Bent, codename Flame. He is played by Thure Lindhardt. He gets his nickname from his striking red hair which always seems to fall down over one eye in a fashion befitting a GQ model. His face and well pressed wardrobe cut movie star angles as he strides through the streets with confidence, every once in a while putting bullets through the skulls of Danish Nazis or those in league with the enemy. He appears to be a ladies man, who has no problem chatting up sophisticated Euro-hotties in a bar filled with Gestapo who want him strung up in the town square.
The most interesting actor in the world, Mads Mikkelsen, plays Jorgen, who gets the nickname Citron. Citron is Flame’s getaway driver. He is a sweaty, cigarette smoking machine who pops amphetamines like candy so he can stay awake to carry out their missions. Citron looks like a university professor who has a phobia of attractive coeds wearing tight sweaters. He is estranged from his wife and little daughter and watching him shake down a Nazi shopkeeper to provide them with some luxury panty items shows us the conflict that is going on in his soul. He screams to everyone that he is not a thief. The look on his face when he is walking away with real chocolate, coffee, apples and other goodies makes us realize he isn’t so sure. The uppers, cancer sticks and cloak and dagger activities are wearing on him. He seems to be running the risk of turning into a taller version of a Peter Lorre caricature. As difficult as it may be, Bent and Jorgen can outmaneuver the Gestapo for the time being. Guilt–that parasite that can only be extinguished with forgiveness–is always walking side by side with them, tapping them on the forehead every time they try and forget that their job is to kill human beings, enemy or not.
Citron and Flame take orders from Winther (Peter Mygind), who has a direct pipeline to the Allies in London. Winther is a hard case, even berating someone who has been badly wounded by a Nazi bullet. He reminds us of the asshole police captain in so many Hollywood movies. Winther’s management skills would not win him any friends in our modern world, where everyone is too precious to be chastised or challenged with some heavy lifting. Winther also might be traitorous, or just simply extremely cautious. Ambiguities challenge Nazi soldiers for screen time in this film.
As if their lives weren’t dangerous enough, Flame strikes up a relationship with Ketty Selmer (Stine Stengarde), a mysterious woman who he seems drawn to like a cartel assassin to an honest politician. Ketty toys with Flame’s emotions, telling him things that might save his life, or get them placed in a concentration camp. To make matters worse, the boys decide to target Gestapo Commander Hoffman (Christian Berkel), a smooth talking operative who comes across as a genial Nosferatu in an expensive suit. During a brief shootout, Flame and Hoffman stand on either side of a wall, guns out, where Hoffman drops the “we are the same” speech on Flame. It recalls a very similar scene from Face/Off that came out eleven years earlier, Travolta and Cage deliciously mugging it up surrounded by a brilliant hail of bullets. Although it might not win any points for originality, it is an interesting scene in Flame and Citron.
The look and feel of the film are wonderful. Copenhagen in 1944 is perfectly realized, one would assume. I was not in the city during this time in history, but it sure looked real. The cinematography, directing and acting are all first rate. Lots of bustling taverns filled with Gestapo and Resistance fighters, sunlight highlighting blue cigarette smoke and glasses of golden ale. We are treated to antique cars creeping past checkpoints lined with sandbags and barbed wire–stern faced Nazis perusing papers like granite gargoyles. The ever present sound of leather boots pounding the pavement with the precision of a drummer in a marching band is the soundtrack of Bent and Jorgen’s lives. It seems they walk through life with one hand on a pistol, the other clutching a pack of smokes.
Lindhardt and Mikkelsen are excellent as completely different men drawn into a friendship by extenuating circumstances. As much as I admire Mikkelsen, I think the movie belongs to Lindhardt. Perhaps I am just seeing this as an American as his is the more traditional role, I believe. This great movie plays out like a distant relative of Casablanca, only without the sharp humor or the angelic beauty of Ingrid Bergman. No offense to Stine Stengarde, an attractive and talented actress, but she is no Ilsa Lund. You have to be pretty hot for me to bust a masturbatory nut in black and white and Bergman accomplished that mission. At least as many times as Bent and Jorgen offed a Nazi.
Flame and Citron is in Danish and German. If those aren’t your native languages, you may need to watch them with subtitles. Fear not, the words written on the screen!! Think of it as reading the dialogue of a really good novel written by one of those awesome writers from the 1930’s or 40’s. The authors who pounded on those heavy keys until their fingertips throbbed and they had filled a page with words so eloquently brutal and fascinating that we had to put the book down for a moment to ruminate on their greatness.
We need more entertainment like this.