The Impure Morality of Nazi Resistance
In the movies, the romance of Nazi resistance movements, particularly those inside German-occupied countries, is rarely matched by the cruelty such duplicitous action must have demanded. In “The War: A Memoir,” the French writer Marguerite Duras, whose husband was deported to an extermination camp (he survived), recalls a female French Resistance fighter who calmly tortures an informer. The torturer compares her work to demolition. “Blow by blow,” Duras writes. “You have to hold out, stick it out. And then, soon, there will emerge, quite small, hard as a seed, the truth.” Duras implied that she was the torturer, though apparently she wasn’t. Whatever the truth, her representation of the Resistance seems true because of its cruelty.
One film that doesn’t soften the truth about resistance movements with remorse or false sentiment is Jean-Pierre Melville’s “Army of Shadows,” a 1969 masterpiece based on his experiences in the French underground. The Danish director Ole Christian Madsen looks to have borrowed some Melvillian stylistic flourishes to make “Flame & Citron,” a fictionalized film, based on fact, about two Danish Resistance fighters. You can see the Melville touch in the impenetrable shadows that spill across Mr. Madsen’s carefully composed mise-en-scène and in the fedoras and trench coats worn by his two heroes (Thure Lindhardt as Flame, and Mads Mikkelsen as Citron). What it doesn’t share, though, is the lack of pity that makes “Army of Shadows” so unbearably sad, its almost repellent hardness of heart.
What “Flame & Citron” has instead are decent men taking down Nazis (always a crowd pleaser) and some appealing actors — notably Mr. Lindhardt, Mr. Mikkelsen and Christian Berkel as the head of the Copenhagen Gestapo — ensnared in an increasingly tangled narrative line. Written by Mr. Madsen and Lars K. Andersen, the film tracks Flame and Citron as they do in Nazis and collaborators — for the most part, Flame pulls the trigger, Citron spins the getaway wheel — and their relationships with prickly colleagues and difficult intimates. Citron, his face drenched in sweat, proves an unreliable family man, while the red-haired Flame casts an eye at a femme, Ketty (Stine Stengade), who might be fatale.
Making little room for history, Mr. Madsen fixes on the down-and-dirty logistics of the missions, some of which are bungled to good dramatic effect, and to the burden increasingly borne by Flame and Citron as a consequence of their bloody work. Though he tries to complicate the story with the fighters’ moral unease — there’s a startling, pointedly unromantic moment when Flame covers one victim’s eyes before he shoots — the elaborate story, with its double agents and competing Resistance groups, doesn’t allow him to tunnel into the characters and their existential questions. He does, however, keep the movie moving, palpably, with a racing camera that brings you into the choreographed action and lets you luxuriate in the appealing narrative that evil always meets its heroic opposition.
FLAME & CITRON
Opens on Friday in Manhattan.
Directed by Ole Christian Madsen; written by Lars K. Andersen and Mr. Madsen; director of photography, Jorgen Johansson; edited by Soren B. Ebbe; music by Karsten Fundal; production designer, Jette Lehmann; produced by Lars Bredo Rahbek; released by IFC Films. In Danish, with English subtitles. Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes. This film is not rated.
WITH: Thure Lindhardt (Flame), Mads Mikkelsen (Citron), Stine Stengade (Ketty), Peter Mygind (Winther), Mille Hoffmeyer Lehfeldt (Bodil) and Christian Berkel (Hoffmann).