David’s Review of Flame & Citron

23 Nov

Flame & Citron is a 2008 Danish film never widely released in the U.S.  Thankfully that doesn’t stop places like the Dobie Theatre, here in Austin, from showing it, because it is fantastic.  This movie is a true story following two members of Denmark’s underground resistance during World War II.  The name of the film comes from their code names, Flammen and Citronen.

Flame is a younger man with no close friends or family.  Citron is a husband and father slowly replacing his family with the resistance.  Together they are sent out to sabotage Nazi targets and assassinate Danes who have converted to the Nazis.  They both see themselves as doing what is necessary at time when no one is standing up for their country.  In their own minds, they are doing the noble thing. Nazis, after all, are not real human beings, but embodiments of evil rapidly corrupting their beloved Denmark.

The film opens with a voice-over by Flame, incredibly portrayed by Thure Lindhardt, asking the viewer where they were the day the Nazis entered Denmark.  His questions are played over real footage of the Nazis marching through the streets of Copenhagen.  And despite the gulf of years and nationality that separate the American audience, I couldn’t help but begin to feel a little bit of the helplessness that the Danes must have felt on that day.

This helplessness perfectly sets the tone for the rest of the film.  This is not your typical WWII movie.  You will not get to see the Allies drive the evil forces out of occupied lands.  There are no rescue missions to bring the lost son home to his mother.  There is no black and white here.  Everything is gray.  Yes, the Nazis were the bad guys. But the Danish resistance did some pretty horrible things too.  And that’s what makes this film so fascinating.  This is what war really does.  In films such as Saving Private Ryan we saw how noble war could make men.  In Flame & Citron we see the more common outcome.  We see men slowly losing grip on their humanity.

This is seen most clearly in Citron.  Mads Mikkelsen is an amazing actor who played the character of Citron to perfection.  At the beginning of the film he is a family man who has never actually killed someone himself.  We become witnesses to his downfall as the events of fighting a war gradually drag all the compassion and humanity out of him.  Flame may be the hero of the movie, the one we see the most, but Citron is the heart.  He is the person we want to see succeed.  He is the reason we keep rooting for these assassins, even after they begin their spiral into chaos.

This is the most realistic war movie I have ever seen.  Most movies, especially war movies, give their characters a couple of driving factors (a broken heart, a love of country, a vengeful spirit) and move the plot forward with those.  It simplifies things.  It’s easy for the audience to root for the underdog, the romantic, or “the good guy”.  Director and writer Ole Christian Madsen decided to forgo this traditional device in Flame & Citron.  Instead, he gives us a picture of two very realistic men.  They are both doing what they do for many different reasons.  Those reasons change as the situations they find themselves in change.  They question themselves and what they are doing.  They lie to themselves.  These are real men who are living lives no one was ever meant to live.

Ole Christian Madsen has given us a WWII spy film that is both film noir and completely realistic at the same time.  How many times has that happened?  Not enough.  All the elements in this movie: characters, plot, location, cinematography, were all put together perfectly.  I loved this movie.  I will be looking up everything else Madsen has done, and I beg you to look up this film and experience it for yourself.

Possibly the coolest movie poster ever.

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