WW II Espionage movies should always be judged by comparison to the French production that’s the very best of the genre; Army of Shadows. Measured against that standard, Flame & Citron holds up reasonably well, although this examination of Danish resistance to the Nazi regime doesn’t contain the somber yet glorious shots of the French countryside Shadows used to such brilliant effect or the brooding inevitability of its storyline. Almost every scene in this true story is set in Copenhagen, where a resistance group known as Holger Danske carried out acts of sabotage and retaliatory assassination against the German occupiers of Denmark. Shot in carefully chosen authentic locations and with the lush colors reminiscent of Black Book, (another spy thriller based on actual events in the Danish Resistance) this film intersperses its busts of lethal violence with a careful examination of the moral ambiguity inherent in the tactics chosen by those who violently opposed the Nazis and the often conflicting, murky information on which they based their decisions.
The most famous members of the group were given the code names Flame and Citron, the former is played by Thure Lindhart, an actor introduced to U.S. audiences earlier this year in Angels & Demons and the latter by Mads Mikkelsen, the chilling foe with the bleeding eye that James Bond faced in Casino Royale. Each brings to his respective role the ability to convey an initial unquestioning loyalty to their early missions which fades as the ark of their activities stretches from the elimination of obvious enemies to more morally questionable ones. As the war progressed and the resistance became more diffused, some targets were chose for reasons that had more to do with internecine rivalry among various Danish resistance groups than a desire to strike at the Germans. In addition, honest but unresolved differences in strategy developed between the resistance fighters and the British military who supplied the guns and material necessary for the partisans’ activities. If wars produce few heroes, Flame & Citron suggests that civilian resistance to invasion generates its share of villains as well…
Perhaps the most telling dynamic in this sobering examination of Nazi resistance is the degree to which a simple lust for revenge fueled the actions of Flame, Citron and their compatriots who risked their lives in defiance of the Nazi occupiers and those Danes, like Flame’s father, who chose to identify with The Third Reich. After the successful Allied invasion of France in mid 1944, the push north towards Denmark made many Danes realize that the war was surely going to end in Germany’s defeat; that made them openly question whether the tactical value of the resistance movement’s sporadic underground activities was worth the innocent Danish lives slaughtered in the Nazi reprisals which always followed. Worse still was the ongoing possibility that the targets selected by those in command of Holger Danske were erroneously chosen, either by innocent mistake or for more sinister reasons, making reprisal deaths even more grotesque.
Flame appears to have been especially influenced by a mysterious woman named Ketty Selmer (Stine Stengrade) who moved through various groups as a courier of information only to be tempted by the large reward placed on Flame’s head by the Germans. Were her warnings to Flame and his partner genuine attempts on her part to rescue them from their headlong rush towards capture and death or was she in fact a double agent who manipulated the resistance on behalf of her German masters? According to the film’s end notes, Ms. Selmer survived the war and lived well into her 90’s without ever speaking of her role in the events depicted in this movie.
As Flame, Lindhart brings a cherubic face topped by a thicket of red hair to his role as a young idealist so convinced of the moral purity of his mission that he kills without regard or remorse. Convinced that the flirtatious Selmer loves him and therefore couldn’t possibly betray him and his cause, he plies his lethal trade all the way to a cyanide capsule in order to avoid being taken alive. Mikkelsen on the other hand fashions his character on a far more complex base; passionate about his cause but reluctant to kill, he prefers to act as the driver of Flame’s getaway car. Estranged from a wife and daughter he obviously loves and equally unable to articulate any overarching goal for his life, he evolves into a man riddled with disgust at the carnage he’s caused while being unable to describe any sort of future for himself after the war. His climatic shootout with German soldiers sent to capture him becomes the most sustained action sequence in the film and its staged with rigorous professionalism, but the director caps this part of his movie with an ending reminiscent of Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid, undercutting the film’s far more serious overall tone.
Mikkelsen’s ability to move from villainous characters, (Pusher) to highly moral ones fractured by thoroughly human flaws, (After The Wedding) make him an actor whose presence in American movies would make him a welcome respite from the pretty faces of Hollywood’s current crop of male stars. His compelling mixture of pinched good looks and understated intelligence are reminiscent of Robert Mitchum’s blend of lazy competence and startling violence; let’s hope he “jumps” the Atlantic and finds roles here worthy of his skills.
The Verdict? If the genre appeals to you, this one will fill the bill.
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