Tuesday, July 28, 2009

WWII Denmark: Ole Christian Madsen's FLAME & CITRON opens via IFC

World War II seems never to go out of fashion, but of late we've had a spate of WWII films: Valkyrie was our would-be Christmas pres-
ent, followed not that long after by WWII zombies courtesy of Dead Snow. Only last week we learned about the end-of-
war plight of German women vs. Russian soldiers in A Woman in Berlin, and two weeks

hence we'll be graced with the first-ever comedy from Germany about Herr Hitler and his Third Reich -- My Führer -- about which I'll have more to say later. Right now, let's discover what Denmark was all about during this same period.

In the new film FLAME & CITRON by Ole Christian Madsen (shown at right), we're invited to become part of the Danish resistance, about which I previously knew very little. (I had earlier stated that this movie was about the Norwegian resistance. How I arrived at this mistaken conclusion, I don't know, but I do apologize for the error.) Among the Scandinavian countries during WWII, while Sweden kept its "neutrality" intact and Finland was busy fighting Russia (which was trying to expand its border into its that of its smaller neighbor), little Denmark and much larger Norway were quickly occupied by the Nazis. Regarding the Holocaust, Denmark managed to keep almost all of its Jewish population safe from slaughter but Norway's Jews were not so lucky. While most Danes capitulated (as do denizens of all "occupied" countries) to the Nazis, some fled the country to Britain (there seems to have been a rather strong connection -- commerce, espionage -- between Denmark and England, to which Madsen's movies makes reference). Some few, remaining in place, ended up joining the resistance.

Two such were the real-life characters known as Flame (for his bright red hair), played by Thure Lindhardt, and Citron (I am guessing that this moniker came from a rather sour disposition) essayed by Mads Mikkelsen, who has so far managed quite a nice international career for himself: the Pusher series, Torremolinos 73, King Arthur, Adam's Apples, After the Wedding, Casino Royale and the upcoming Clash of the Titans remake). Co-writer (with Lars Andersen) and director Madsen tosses us into the midst of things, as our "heroes" embark on one of their many assassinations of Nazis and Nazi sympathizers. Danish viewers will no doubt make quicker and more complete connections with what is going on than will us foreigners, but the filmmakers do an adequate job of making events easy enough to follow, as Citron and particularly Flame grow more impatient and anxious to "off" the local Gestapo chief, played by Christian Berkel (shown below, left).

Each of our men has his love story, Citron with his wife, Flame with an attractive older woman (Stine Stengade, below, left) whose loyalties seem more than a bit up-in-the-air. The movie is said to have been partially inspired by Jean-Pierre Melville's Army of Shadows, though its real-life characters certainly were not. I assume that this is due to both films having somewhat similar "takes" on the resistance experience in a occupied country: the need to follow orders, justice and truth be damned; the consequences of having to, occasionally at least, assassinate the innocent; and the remarkable ability of some "freedom fighters" to very adeptly feather their own nest.

All this makes for a nice complexity, though sometimes the movie seems too morally murky for its own good. Try as the filmmakers might to leave their audience cheering these heroes, as the closing credits explain what happened to F&C, you're likely to leave the theater (or your couch: the movie is already playing On-Demand) pretty depressed at what you've witnessed. As usual, and despite whichever power finally wins the war, an occupied country loses it -- one way or another. Performances are excellent, leads down to supporting cast, and the sets, costumes, cars, and cinematography are spot-on and period-specific, rendering the look of the film sleek and beautiful. I'm glad to have experienced Flame & Citron, for its dark and glossy entertainment, and even more for its ability to push me into further study of Scandinavia during WWII.

Released via IFC Entertainment, the movie opens this Friday, July 31, in New York City at the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas and the Landmark Sunshine Cinema. Over the coming weeks, it will be released across the country -- and it is also available via IFC On-Demand to over 50 million homes in the US. (Check your local TV reception-provider for On-Demand information.)


Martin said...

The movie makes much of the date of the Nazi invasion, April 9, 1944. I thought it unlikely the Nazis waited until 1944 to invade Denmark, so I looked it up. Indeed the Nazi's moved into Denmark on April 9, 1940.

Martin said...

The movie makes much of the date of the Nazi invasion of Denmark, "April 9,1944. In fact the Nazis invaded on April, 9, 1940.

James van Maanen, said...

Is this TRUE? The movie-makers were four years off the mark? Whew! Well, we all make mistakes. Until a very gracious PR lady corrected me, I had thought -- and originally published that thought -- that this film was set in Norway, rather than Denmark. In any case, thanks for your comment, Martin.

Anonymous said...

I think you are a little confused. The movie takes place in 1944, in the height of the resistance. It starts out showing the footage from the invasion and says that it was April 9th, but never says a year. It was marketed, at least originally, to Scandinavia. Thus there was no need to give a year since April 9, 1940 is such a commonly known date there.

James van Maanen, said...

I'm sure I AM a little confused, Anonymous -- and about SO many things.... And Martin, in his earlier comments, may be, as well. But thanks for setting this point straight. And, yes, that date means nothing to us here in the USA, so for purposes of foreign travel, the film's U.S. distributors might have included a bit of extra information in a title card or two -- for those of us lacking in Scandinavian history.