15 February 2012 | JamesHitchcock
A Revisionist Resistance Drama
British film buffs are often critical of Americans for their supposed indifference to foreign-language moves, but there are signs that the transatlantic phobia about subtitles has now spread to our own shores. Films from continental Europe were once fairly common on British television, but they have now all but disappeared from terrestrial channels, and even on specialist movie channels like Sky Movies, TCM and Film 4 they are few and far between.
BBC4 is something of an exception. Following "The Killing" and "Borgen" that channel is currently having a love-affair with all things Danish, and it was there that I recently caught "Flame & Citron". It is said to be one of the most expensive Danish language movies ever, although the budget was only around six million pounds, peanuts by Hollywood standards. (Most Hollywood producers these days would pay out considerably more than that figure to meet the salary demands of just one of their film's stars). It is loosely based on actual events and deals with the Danish resistance movement during the latter part of World War II. The title refers to the code names of two members of the Holger Danske resistance group, Bent Faurschou-Hviid (known as Flame because of his red hair) and Jørgen Haagen Schmith (known as Citron, Danish for lemon, because he once worked for the Citroen car company).
The film opens in 1943 when the tide of war is starting to turn against Germany, Hitherto the Resistance has largely confined itself to sabotage and assassinations of Danish collaborators. Flame and Citron now receive instructions from their controller, Aksel Winther, to pursue a campaign of attacks against the Nazi occupiers themselves, something the Resistance has previously avoided.
Films about European Resistance movements made during the war or in the years immediately following it invariably had a simple moral structure. (I cannot recall any such movies actually set in Denmark, but there were numerous examples about other occupied countries, such as "The Day Will Dawn" and "The Heroes of Telemark", both about Norway, "One of Our Aircraft is Missing" about the Netherlands and "The Guns of Navarone" about Greece). The Resistance fighters are invariably shown as unambiguously heroic, as are their British or American allies, the Germans are unambiguously evil, and the local collaborators totally despicable. The film generally ends with our heroes having successfully performed some gallant feat of arms which will render invaluable assistance to the Allied war effort.
"Flame and Citron" is quite different. Despite its World War Two setting, it bears more resemblance to a modern spy movie or to a neo- noir crime drama than a traditional "heroic Resistance" film. One might call it, on the analogy of the revisionist Western, a revisionist Resistance drama. There are no British or American commandos on hand to lend assistance. The attacks which Bent and Jørgen carry out are only of doubtful value to the overall Allied cause. Most importantly, the moral boundaries are more blurred. Flame and Citron suffer pangs of conscience over the killings they carry out and never know whom they can trust. Is Winther in league with the Germans, or is he in fact pursuing his own personal agenda by settling private scores? Is Ketty, the glamorous woman with whom Flame falls in love, actually a double agent? Will the attacks on the Germans contribute to the liberation of Denmark, or will they simply provoke German reprisals against Danish civilians? Are the Germans in fact all villains? One high-ranking German officer claims to be part of his country's own anti-Nazi movement, and even if he is lying this claim does at least draw attention to the fact that by no means all Germans were pro-Hitler.
The atmosphere of the film is, despite occasional action sequences, subdued, with a muted colour scheme, symbolic of the dark shadows which Nazi rule had cast over occupied Europe. Although it does, I think, finally reach the conclusion that the Resistance effort was worthwhile in that the self-sacrifice involved played a vital role in enabling Denmark to preserve its sense of national honour, it does at least dramatise some of the moral dilemmas involved in active resistance to a brutal occupying force. Modern dramas from continental Europe about the war are not particularly common, but this is one well worth watching. 7/10