Flame and Citron Review
For Bent and Jørgen, codenamed Flame and Citron, it’s simple – they kill Nazis. As members of the Danish Resistance, fighting against the Nazi occupation of the country, they also assassinate Danish nationals of influential position who work alongside and in collaboration with the Nazis. Although they take out one or two targets of their own choosing, they normally don’t even have to select or question the names put forward to them for elimination. That’s done by Winther, the head of a select group of resistance fighters involved in spying, sabotage, couriering, smuggling and assisting Allied troops, who receives his instructions ultimately from the British Command. The two hitmen simply carry out their tasks coolly, ruthlessly and methodically.
Things however prove to be not so simple at this late stage in the war in 1944. The Gestapo are threatening reprisals for the assassinations, the Russians are on the advance and the Swedish Resistance have counter-orders from the British High Command to cease civilian action in favour of a more concerted, large scale offensive that is being planned. Flame and Citron also begin to have doubts about the targets they have been given to eliminate – businessmen who don’t seem to fit the model of collaborators, and even members of the German Resistance. When doubt starts to creep in, so does danger...
Ole Christian Madsen’s story of two real-life resistance fighters Bent Fauerschon-Hviid and Jørgen Haagen Schmidt, is slickly and dramatically filmed, with sharp contrasts that render it almost like a film noir – there’s even a very definite femme fatale in a blonde wig here – although the stylisations, lighting and intensity of mood generated by the conflict of interests also suggest someone who has studied The Godfather films quite carefully. That’s not a bad thing, the whole crime/noir mood proving to be most effective when it comes to dealing with to the real human issues and conflicts that arise out of this war-time situation.
Inevitably, in a war-time situation of secrets, spying, informers and collaboration those issues boil down to a question of who can you trust. Flame and Citron manages to deal with this question rather more effectively and realistically than Paul Verhoeven’s ludicrous Black Book or Ang Lee’s equally silly Lust, Caution, realising that it’s not just every man for themselves, but that in a time of war, allegiances and alliances are necessarily fleeting, opportunistic and changeable. As Citron observes at one point “There is no just or unjust any longer. Just war.” No-one has a choice, unrealistic moral positions and principles cannot be maintained, no-one can remain uninvolved.
Being human, the work carried out by Flame and Citron inevitably necessarily carries a heavy burden – not just for themselves, but for all those around them. Bent knows what he is getting into when he becomes romantically involved with a resistance courier Ketty Selmer who is necessarily playing both sides off the other in order to maintain her cover and get access to important information, but that doesn’t make the furtive and deceptive behaviour any easier to deal with. For Jørgen, the brutal nature of his work and the necessary secrecy surrounding his movements has an impact on his relationship with his wife and daughter. The personal issues and conflicted positions soon take their toll on the men, and the film persuasively (and stylishly, in the manner of Infernal Affairs or The Departed if you like) becomes a psychological study of ordinary men driven to unspeakable actions during unspeakable times, themselves becoming flawed and corrupted by the manner in which they have been forced to live.
The film takes these issues in very successfully under the appearance of a slick, highly-stylised thriller, the camera simply adoring the intense, flame-haired Thure Lindhardt and dark, moody Mads Mikkelson, who both put in charismatic performances of conflicted intensity and heroic purpose. It’s a little bit over-staged in places – particularly the endings – but that’s a minor quibble. For the most part, the film is stirring stuff, doing full justice to the complexity of the war-time situation, to the nature of heroism, to the nature of trust, and the nature of being human in inhumane times.
Flame and Citron is released on Blu-ray in the UK by Metrodome. The film is presented on BD25 disc with a 1080p encode. The extra features are Standard Definition PAL. The DVD packaging indicates that disc is not region-locked, but should be accessible for All Regions.
Shooting noir style, making use of sharp contrasts Flame and Citron looks nothing less than stunning in High Definition, with bright lighting that brings out detail on skin tones and lots of shadows in dark locations, each handled extremely well in the presentation. Even in the dimmest of locations, shadows are well defined, blacks are solid and unwavering, with the lit figures clearly standing out from backgrounds. Vivid colours – such as Flame’s red-hair - also tend to stand out from the black and greyness of the surroundings on the streets and show excellent definition. There are no marks or flaws in the transfer, no noticeable compression issues and no edge enhancement. In comparison to the DVD, which looks softer and more film-like, the transfer can appear overly-clinical, but this is how the film was shot and how it’s meant to look. Despite having PAL speed-up however, the DVD is a little smoother in movements, with some 24p judder being noticeable here in vertical and horizontal pans of the camera. In the greater scheme of things however, this is relatively minor and unavoidable, so to all intents and purposes this is an outstanding transfer, one of the best I’ve seen in HD.
Screenshots in this review come from the Standard Definition DVD.
There is only one soundtrack, which is a DTS HD-master Audio 5.1 track. Again, this cannot be faulted, the film well mixed, keeping attention towards the front, with subtle enveloping ambience on the surrounds. When it needs to kick in during the shooting and war-action sequences, it delivers with an effective punch.
English subtitles are in a white font with only a fine border, so they can momentarily be difficult to read on occasions when placed against a bright background. I didn’t have any difficulty reading them myself however. The subtitles are placed entirely within the picture frame, never in the black border below the 2.35:1 image.
Al Jazeera Interview with Mads Mikkelson (11:49)
Better known as the Bond villain in Casino Royale, this contains an excellent profile of the actor, as well as a post-screening Q&A of the film for an invited audience, Mikkelson talking about the film raising old war issues long forgotten in Denmark and playing in the moral grey area with the character of Citron.
Interview with Thure Lindhardt (13:16)
The actor playing Flame discusses what he knows of the real-life character from research and the limited documentation available, as well as his experience of working with Ole Christian Madsen and Mads Mikkelson, the three of them clearly forming a highly effective team.
Interview with Ole Christian Madsen (22:42)
Definitely the most interesting and informative interview of the bunch, the director talks about his fascination with the subject of Flame and Citron from childhood, his research into them, and the difficulty of getting a war movie made in Denmark when he came to write the script. Madsen also provides background information on the historical background of the film, the occupation of Denmark and the Resistance, and a bit more on Hoffman and the Gestapo. He also talks about his decision to shoot the film like a noir, larger than life because he feels that the characters are indeed larger than life.
A Nation Under Occupation
Six text pages also provide further information on the period and the various Resistance groups, including the fascinating fact that between them Flame and Citron carried out around 200 executions and over 100 sabotage operations during the war.
Theatrical Trailer (2:01)
The stylish-looking trailer doesn’t hold back nevertheless from depicting the film as dark, grim and intense.
Certainly one of the best High Definition releases of the year, Flame and Citron is a tense, thrilling war-time adventure, based on real-life characters whose lives were clearly no less dramatic than the recounting of them here. Although highly-stylised and dramatised, characterisation isn’t sacrificed, the film considering the complexity of the situation and the personal impact of being involved in such murky and inhumane activities, and consequently having a little more depth and meaning. The HD transfer is simply one of the best you’ll see.