Flame & Citron (Flammen & Citronen)


Robin Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Robin Clifford 
Flame & Citron (Flammen & Citronen)
Laura Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Laura Clifford 

Bent (Thure Lindhardt) and Jorgen (Mads Mickelsen) are the top assassins for the Danish resistance and specialize in killing Nazis and their Dane collaborators. It is June 1944 and the freedom fighters are chomping at the bit to be a part of the Big Picture – the D-Day invasion. As the Allies flood into Normandy, the Danes accelerate their efforts, murdering as many Nazis as possible, especially the duo known as “Flame & Citron.”

Robin:
With a budget of over $10 million, filmmaker Ole Christian Madsen makes the most expensive Danish film to date. We meet the title characters as they show their expertise, killing a high-ranking collaborator marked for death by the resistance leaders. Bent and Jorgen are highly regarded by the Danish people and equally feared by the fascist invaders. The Nazis have tried to break the fighters for over four years, without success, and now face their well-armed foes, funded, supplied and given intelligence by the British.

The Holger Danske resistance has come into the open with the arrival of the Allied forces in France. It is just a matter of time before they move up the European coast and set foot in Denmark and the freedom fighters step up their sabotage, bombing and assassination efforts against the Nazis. For Flame and Citron, business is good, too good, as their leaders shift position and assign them questionable hits, including a German colonel, Gilbert (Hanns Zischler), who tells Flame that he is in fact a double agent. The gunman lets his prey live, mistakenly, he learns later.

Citron has his own inner demons that surface when the pair gets the assignment to kill a female collaborator. Flame, who will not shoot a woman, refuses the kill and Citron must perform the assassination. He muffs the assignment, telling his partner that he has never killed before. Flame must break his cardinal rule and finish the deadly job. The unrelenting killing takes its toll on Bent, as does the steadily rising price placed on his head by the Nazis – 20000 kroner, but with no takers by the anti-fascist Danes. The fast-approaching war strains all and the danger takes a quantum leap.

Helmer Madsen co-scripted “Flame and Citron” with Lars Andersen and creates a sometimes gripping, sometimes explosive and sometimes sedate thriller that chronicles the true life adventures of Bent, Jorgen and the Holger Danske resistance fighters. The 2-plus hour tome occasionally loses focus as the story tries to render full-bodied character studies with historical detail and drama. Thure Lindhardt does pull it off as the bright orange-haired Flame – how the Nazis keep missing a guy whose hair looks like a burning torch is beyond me – giving the character a solemn intensity as he tries to rid his country of the fascist bastards. Mads Mickelsen comes off less well as Citron, keeping his performance to an anguished grimace for most of the film. This makes sense as you learn about his hard life but relegates the actor to a single note.

The supporting cast is huge, as befits the subject, and hosts several fine performances. Christian Berkel, who played the shaven-head barkeep in “Inglorious Basterds,” is first-rate as the freedom fighter hunter, Gestapo boss Hoffmann, whose primary mission is to eliminate the titular duo. Stine Stengade’s Ketty Selmer is an ambiguity wrapped in an enigma as she first appears to be on one side, then the other and back again. She is a femme fatale who mystifies and confuses Bent in his loyalties.  Hanns Zischler is superb as the clever and convincing Colonel Gilbert who Bent let live. The other supporting players give texture to the background doings.

The filmmakers do a terrific job in placing us in 1944 Copenhagen under Nazi rule. Attention to period detail, from costume and vehicles to locales and sets, shows the care the filmmakers take in bringing this little known bit of WW2 history to light. Lenser Jorgen Johansson captures the action with documentary style. The film preludes with a brief newsreel montage of the German invasion and occupation of Denmark and the rise of the resistance, giving a bit of a history lesson to lay the groundwork for what is to come. I give it a B.

Laura:
In 1944, two very different men were teamed together as part of the Danish resistance.  Their names were "Flame & Citron."

Cowriter (with Lars Andersen)/director Ole Christian Madsen has made a fascinating dual character study lodged within a somewhat stodgy film.  "Flame & Citron" takes almost an hour to reel one in, but once it has its grasp, Thure Lindhardt ("Into the Wild") and veteran Mads Mikkelsen ("Open Hearts," "Casino Royale")    have created such indelible characters, they make the film linger.

Perhaps one of the reasons the film takes a while to build is because Andersen and Madsen just fling the audience into the action without creating back stories for these two disparate men.  The younger, red-headed Flame, is the assassin, but he is skittish about shooting women. We presume the older Citron, who acts as the driver, has no such problems and are surprised to learn he's never killed anyone (a fact that reverberates at the character's ironic end). We never learn how these two ended up together, but they report to Aksel Winther (Peter Mygind), a member of the police with connections who gives them their assignments.

Trouble begins to brew when they are told to hit Ketty Selmer (Stine Stengade, "Fear Me Not"), a beautiful courier involved with Flame.  But the filmmakers have established Flame as somewhat naive, as we've seen him talked out of shooting German Colonel Gilbert (Hanns Zischler, "Munich") by Gilbert himself (a terrific scene, beautifully written).  It is here that the film starts to really take hold as we realize that Flame and Citron live in a world of greys where one can never trust another.  Mikkelsen creates a very melancholy man, a man whose principles have caused the loss of his beloved wife and child to another man.  Women, it appears, have undone both of these men.  As Head of Gestapo Karl Heinz Hoffmann, Christian Berkel ("Inglourious Basterds") is an intelligent and surprising adversary.

The filmmakers use humor to flesh out the supporting players who enable the resistance fighters, like the local ambulance drivers who act like a chop shop, transforming Flame and Citron's old clunker with a new shade of paint after each getaway.

Closing titles tell us about all the honors heaped upon these men after their deaths, but the film illustrates the extraordinary bravery and moral drive required to resist occupying oppressors.  Early on, Flame is aghast to witness fellow Danes in Nazi uniforms, his innocence a confounding component of a man who looked death in the face daily.

B
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