Danish Resistance flick delivers the film-noir goods
Editor's note: Flame and Citron is currently not playing at the Charles Theatre.
"I couldn't do it," sighs Jørgen (Mads Mikkelsen) in exasperation as he climbs into the car, disappointed with himself. "I only hit her in the shoulder." His partner Bent (Thure Lindhardt) immediately gets out, although he wishes he didn't have to. Bent already confessed he didn't like to kill women, having failed to do so once before--which is why Jørgen was named the trigger man this time, though he's never killed anybody before. Bent kicks down the door and searches the flat, firearm drawn. He finds her in the bathroom, where she's tending to her wound. Bent raises the weapon to her head, and she turns slightly to plead with her eyes. With his other hand he tenderly reaches up and turns her head slightly away before pulling the trigger.
Bent, nicknamed "Flame" for his red hair, and Jørgen, alias "Citron" (he worked in a Citroën factory, which the movie doesn't mention), are based on the real life assassins/saboteurs in the Holger Danske resistance group in Nazi occupied Denmark; Flame and Citron is the posh dramatization of their lives and actions in 1944. It's a big, long, and exceedingly well-made World War II resistance yarn, tautly written by Ole Christian Madsen and Lars Andersen (a special-effects veteran), sumptuously photographed by Jørgen Johansson, and smartly acted by Mikkelsen and Lindhardt. It's the sort of movie where men wake up in their suits with a cigarette smoldering in a nearby ashtray, splash some cologne on their unshaven faces, and calmly venture out into Copenhagen's sunlight to shoot informers and collaborators. It's the sort of movie Inglourious Basterds isn't--old-fashioned and reverent to genre conventions.
The conventions it embraces, though, aren't strictly the Resistance flick. Madsen and cinematographer Johansson drench Flame and Citron in noir imagery and themes, which compliment both the movie's mood and fact-based story. Both men wear dark suits and trench coats; Jørgen even sports a fedora. They walk down gray streets and lurk in shadows. They meet their handler, Aksel Winther (Peter Mygind), in a hidden room behind a bar. Bent gets entangled with a platinum blonde femme fatale, Ketty Selmer (Stine Stengade), who says she's a courier for Danish resistance, but who could also be a double agent for the local head of the Gestapo, Karl Heinz Hoffmann (Christian Berkel). Bent and Jørgen's work has isolated them from their families and ordinary lives. They kill. Anybody could be a potential betrayer. And everybody smokes. Almost constantly.
It all adds up to a conventionally gripping 130 minutes marked by riveting if terse shootouts, stalking of the enemy, covert meetings, and the sort of philosophical musings that resistance fighters and complicated Nazis are prone to do in these movies--and Flame and Citron manages to keep the pace tight and tone anxious throughout. Director Madsen is aided by a sharp script that slyly uses a voice-over from Bent, a device that comments on the story or offers enigmatic plot threads that dangle in the movie's ether, but never stoops to mere explanation. That's one of many sharp uses of noir vocabulary that helps the movie maintain its absorbing momentum.
Best of all, though, are Mikkelsen and Lindhardt, who wear their characters' increasingly dangerous lives like hairshirts. Lindhardt's baby face and searching eyes belie the fervor of his anti-Nazi convictions and the arctic chill with which he kills, and Mikkelsen has the face of a man whose existential dread started the day after he was born. As their reputation grows--Bent eventually has a 20,000 kroner bounty from the Gestapo on him--they don't become cocky or careless, and they don't become mere thugs who make idle threats, even after their actions begins to estrange them more and more from actual military resistance and their own peers. So while, yeah, you know almost exactly all the plot points and eventual endgame that Flame and Citron is going to cover, it's refreshingly entertaining when a movie so competently hits all the right notes.