In a recent article by Orson Bean the opening paragraph addresses the lack of opposition to government takeover by Nazi extremists which spiraled into WWII, the imprisonment of some and silence of too many. A Danish film inspired by actual events, Flame and Citron follows two men who were part of the Holger Danske Resistance against occupying Nazis and Danish collaborators.
Edited from IMDB: Assassins Flame and Citron, take orders from Resistance and Allied leaders. One shoots, the other drives. At first they kill only Danish traitors; but when they’re given orders to kill Germans doubt sets in. Can they kill an über-target, evade capture, and survive the war? And is this heroism, naiveté, or mere hatred?
The local, almost small business feeling of the Resistance which appears at first as an unquestionable background component becomes as much of an adversary as the known foe, Nazi fascism. Very few films manage to be devastating and captivating. The intricate lines of story woven between the personal demons of Flame and Citron and their bloody but well-intentioned endeavors is the bitter-sweet note that carries through.
The performances are pristine and flawless, as if there is no performing. The actors embody the flesh of their characters and the director, Ole Christian Madsen, guides them through the saturation and wash of the high and lows.
The rare weak spot in this film is the excessively unrealistic intellect of the Gestapo leader and the glorified, over dramatized scenes of him exacting revenge. Films based on actual events are rarely as interesting as the actual events and reading the sparse Wikipedia entries on both Flame and Citron proved that creative license turned these two heroes into more ambiguous characters than the actual men appear to have been. Citron was so named for the sabotage of six German cars and a tank at a Citroën garage. Flame is rumored to have killed 22 and was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Harry Truman in 1951.
Many cloak and dagger films find it hard to find the equilibrium between glorifying violence with no moral dialog and twisting ethical questions into a gray spongy haze. The real test of a film is if the struggle is shown within a character or told by the film maker. In this case, the latter won. Or rather, lost. Flame’s questions in the beginning of the film seem to suggest where the film’s ethics lie, but the portrayal of his hatred for the Germans and Danish police is stronger than the reason for it ever is.
Film makers often become so obsessed with the internal struggle of their characters they mistake it for motivation. The story then becomes shifting culture, values, morals, ethics everything that comprises right and wrong, to validate the ambiguity. This is why films often leave that tinny taste that sours on the roof of your mouth. The philosophy of there is no good, gray is god.
Antagonists never seem to struggle with the same issues. Rarely do they wonder why they’re so darned evil and go for a swim in the moral relativity pool. The depiction of evil becomes more offensive while the ideals of righteousness are delayed in the swamps of modern philosophy. And so goes the few scenes before the fade to black as the tone seems to turn against the protagonists and toward the Gestapo leader. He’s just looking for an intellectual challenge, really. Isn’t he a respectful little Nazi.
There are many parallels to another film, Defiance. They are both stories of localized resistance efforts previously unexplored by film with humanistic God-shaped vacuums and obtuse efforts to infuse genuine soul into fertile characters. But Defiance, with coldly depicted protagonists, more interesting in online blurbs than on screen, struggled and failed whereas Flame and Citron struggles and succeeds.