20 September 2009

FLAMMEN AND CITRONEN / FLAME AND CITRON (Dir. Ole Christian Madsen, 2008, Denmark/Czech Republic/Germany) - Heroes and Villains

Flame and Citron are considered to be Denmark's two most famous World War II resistance fighters.

Not another World War II film you might ask indifferently yet this Danish production, directed by the austere talents of film maker Ole Christian Madsen is a handsomely mounted espionage thriller that documents the contribution of two of the most famous members of the notorious Danish ‘Holger Danske’ resistance; Bent Faurschou-Hviid (‘Flame’) and Jorgen Haagen Schmith (‘Citron’). Touted as one of the Danish film industry’s most expensive feature films, ‘Flame and Citron’ was given a limited release in the March of this year and has continued quietly to attract critical acclaim, with many comparing it to both Spielberg’s ‘Munich’ and Jean Pierre Meville’s ‘Army of the Shadows’ in the moral contradictions that haunt those who choose to resist and use violence as a means of self defence. I’m not so sure if the film possesses the impressive aesthetic and ideological confidence that makes Melville’s 1969 film a classic of the genre. However, Ole Christian Madsen certainly knows how to tell a compelling story, weaving together an evocative recreation of Denmark under siege in the 1940s with a sympathetic appreciation for the sombre betrayals and secrets which would lead to the eventual destruction of the Holger Danske resistance group.

Flame harbours a particular disliking for the Gestapo.

Dispensing with glib heroics and manufactured sentimentality, the film seems much more interested in the way in which the resistance was exploited for personal financial gain and entombing the past. In terms of characterisation, Madsen wisely indulges mythologizing Flame and Citron as dark avengers who may appear stylistically chic in their suave dress sense and inviting tics but emerge as flawed, broken manifestations of a city paralysed by brutal occupation. Mads Mikkelsen is perhaps the face most familiar to audiences in the UK and US, having portrayed the villain ‘Le Chiffre’ in the recent James Bond outing ‘Casino Royale’. Mads Mikkelsen has created a notable reputation in the Danish film industry as one of its finest actors and his fearless portrayal of Jorgen aka ‘Citron’ as the dysfunctional family man forced to surrender his status as both civilian and father certainly marks him out as someone who straddles the middle ground between mainstream and art house cinema. The character of Bent aka ‘Flame’ is played by a much younger Danish actor, Thure Lindhardt, who is equally impressive in what is a cocky, assertive and uncompromising performance.

With a magnificently stark visual style, incorporating an authenticity for locations and a tragic, understated ending that involves imaginative use of cross cutting, ‘Flame and Citron’ transcends the limitations of the genre by never losing sight of the moral integrity which rightfully helped immortalise the memory of a universal will to resist. Made on a budget of $10 million, the film has not fared too well at the global box office, having only grossed an equivalent $10 million. This is disappointing considering how well such a film could have played to a genre savvy Multiplex crowd in the UK.

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