Flame & Citron
|Flame & Citron|
|Directed by||Ole Christian Madsen|
|Box office||$10 million|
Flame & Citron (Danish: Flammen & Citronen) is a 2008 Danish drama co-written and directed by Ole Christian Madsen. The film, a fictionalized account based on fact, stars Thure Lindhardt and Mads Mikkelsen as two Danish resistance movement fighters nicknamed Flame and Citron, during the Nazi occupation of Denmark in World War II. Attracted by the story of the pair since he was twelve, Madsen spent eight years researching along with co-writer Lars K. Andersen on historical archives to produce it.
Madsen's idea was to bring Flame and Citron's history as he considered it has been neglected or misrepresented in the Danish history. The most expensive Danish film produced to that date, it was co-produced by German companies because initially there was no interest in producing the film in Denmark for its depiction of the resistance. The director portrayed the protagonists as morally ambiguous characters and tried to show war as a complicated scenario that is beyond good-versus evil dichotomy. The film also thematizes over love, betrayal, and emotional relations.
Borrowing visual and narrative references from film noir and the French film Army of Shadows, Flame & Citron was released in Denmark on 28 March 2008 to positive critics. The most watched film in the country that year, it was praised mostly for its cast performances, dramatic style, and depiction of war and its moral dillemas. The film was also highly compared to Army of Shadows and other war films both favorably and negatively, and was considered an art-house film by some critics. Additionally, it was nominated for awards dosmetically and internationally but has sparked a debate over its historical accuracy.
Set in 1943 and 1944 during World War II, the film is loosely based on historic events featuring two of the most active fighters in the Holger Danske resistance group during World War II: the red-haired Bent Faurschou-Hviid (known as Flammen) and Jørgen Haagen Schmith (known as Citron). The two friends assassinate Danish Nazis and collaborators.
Before 1944, they kill only Danes, to reduce widespread retaliation by the Nazis. Their handler, Aksel Winther, claiming orders from the government in exile in London, orders them to kill prominent Nazi officials. Doubt arises, and Flammen and Citron must also deal with competing resistance groups, an internal traitor, and a femme fatale who might be a double (or triple) agent.
- Thure Lindhardt as Bent Faurschou-Hviid / Flammen
- Mads Mikkelsen as Jørgen Haagen Schmith / Citron
- Stine Stengade as Ketty Selmer
- Peter Mygind as Aksel Winther
- Mille Lehfeldt as Bodil
- Christian Berkel as Hoffmann, leader of the Gestapo
- Hanns Zischler as Gilbert, a German colonel
- Claus Østergaard as Bananen
- Flemming Enevold as Spex
- Lars Mikkelsen as Frode Jacobsen, also known as Ravnen
- Jesper Christensen as Flammen's father
Director Ole Christian Madsen had read the book They Saw It Happpen about the Nazi Resistance when he was 12, and, was especially attracted by the story of the pair because of their moral ambiguity. Madsen stated, "They both fascinated and scared me, and I sensed there was something dark and untold in their story." Then, he "wanted to make a film that would revive and reassess their reputation." Years later, he met writer Lars K. Andersen, who had also read the book during his childhood, and this led them to envision a film. Its project started in 1999; it did not attracted sponsors because it was "past history" or because it portrayed the resistance "outrageously". This was precisely an objective Madsen had: to talk about their story because Danish wartime archives list many fatalities simply as casualties of war instead of pointing it as their murders, "suppress[ing]" their history. He wanted to talk about this part of Danish history "the nation has since neglected to talk about" and thus created a "collective misrepresentation" about.
Even if with the refusal of major companies, Madsen and Andersen have been researching archives in England, Germany and Sweden since then. In 2005 German films about World War II started to become popular and several German companies became interested on the idea. It became a co-production between Denmark and Germany, and had three companies—Nimbus Film, Wüste Film and Babelsberg Studio—working on it. Filming took place at the Babelsberg locations in Potsdam-Babelsberg, Germany, and large parts of the film were also shot at locations in Copenhagen, Denmark, and Prague, Czech Republic. It received a $460,000 fee from the German Film Fund for its total budget of more than 45 million Danish kroner (or $7.6 million), making it the most expensive Danish film ever.
Thure Lindhardt was a frequent collaborator in Madsen's films and, because of "[his] quality where he can slip himself into any part", he was cast. Mads Mikkelsen was chose before his international career launched by the director because "he has this grand masculinity, and he approaches his roles like an animal." Both Lindhardt and Mikkelsen were cast early in the project, circa 2005, and Stengade was cast even earlier in 2001. The casting process "wasn't really difficult, because I didn't feel that so many people could play these parts", Madsen declared.
In the film Madsen tried to contest the concept of war as "black and white" and "of the resistance as a cohesive whole". He told war "has many more nuances, it is grayer, less defined. When an enemy may stop being one at any time and a friend can become an enemy overnight, things become less clear". Ella Taylor of The Village Voice commented, "Flame & Citron is less about the battle between good and evil than about losing one's way in the fog of war, which makes it hard to tell friend from foe and harder yet to sort through the rules of engagement, and complicates the heroic honor codes of movies about the 'good war.'" Marshall Fine of The Huffington Post asserted that the violence in the film is two-way handed: "[it] takes its toll on the perpetrator as well as the victim." Similarly, The Irish Times 's Derek Scally stated the film analises "the dehumanising effect of assassinations on assassin".
Madsen tried to explore this "moral dilemma", "the drama behind the story of the 'illegals'" and human psychology in crisis situations. Madsen ultimately defined his film "as an investigation of what happens psychologically to someone who sacrifices himself in war." Because of this, he portrayed Flammen and Citronen as "modern heroes with cracks in their souls and doubts and insecurities". Citron even reflected upon killing people but "he did it. He sold out his humanity for the highest price." Kenneth Turan of Los Angeles Times described the story as "a psychologically complex look at what heroism does to heroes. The actions these men take tear at their lives, their families, their very essence." Joe Morgenstern, critic for The Wall Street Journal analised it as "a meditation on the nature of heroism, and the quest for purity of purpose." Turan even said it is "more nihilistic than idealistic," while Tirdad Derakhshani of The Philadelphia Inquirer asserted that it "balances the whizzing bullets and political intrigue with an elegiac tone and an existential edge just this side of nihilism." Its depiction of the resistance in a non-heroic way made it an "one-off film" in Danish cinema, according to film historian Lars-Martin Sørensen.
Turan affirmed that Flame & Citron has several themes as it "is chock full of plot and incident, action and romance, loyalty and betrayal." Derakhshani stated it "rehearses virtually every element of the classic genre piece: violence, sex and romance, gunplay, spies, betrayals, a femme fatale, and a murderous Gestapo officer". Cynthia Fuchs of PopMatters noted that though he has to deal mainly with "moral questions, Flame confronts an emotional complication—in the conventional form of a woman." Eric Abeel of The Hollywood Reporter argued that "For beneath his stony exterior, it's Flame's romantic soul that will prove his worst enemy. This masterful film is at once a portrait of wartime heroism and a poignant journey into a boy's secret heart."
Other theme the film deals with is the bureaucracy in the resistance, according to Ty Burr of Boston Globe, as the main pair would prefer to work as freelancers. Writing for The Washington Post, Michael O'Sullivan said it has also "a surprisingly contemporary subtext, as when Hoffmann, in an abortive showdown with Flame, calls his would-be assassin a well-intentioned, but ultimately misguided, terrorist. 'Don't you realize,' Hoffmann asks, 'you're just a tool for someone with less pure motives?'" Burr also commented that "The film repeatedly poses that question ["Who's being set up here?"] and pointedly refuses to answer. By its silence, it suggests that in wartime everyone can be both user and used."
Originally, Madsen planned to create a docudrama-style film but when he discovered Ketty was a Russian spy and had a love affair with Flammen he changed his mind. This finding "forced me to make the film a much more stylish, more noirish piece of work." "Even so, I tried to keep a soft touch style-wise out of respect for the film's subject," said Madsen. He tried to make it feel real by "eliminating the distance to 1944" and directing the film as it was set in the present.
The visual style was described by the director a mix of his former own films which varied from "film-noir in its essence, very dark and very eclectic" to "hand-held", "more visually relaxing". Guy Lodge of Incontention described it as "owing much to film noir in the intricacy of its narrative and the lush, shadow-drenched stylization of its visuals." Wally Hammond, for Time Out London, said its cinematography varies "between atmospheric, noir-esque period evocation and modern widescreen stylings, with excellent use of low-key lighting, silhouettes and location." Mark Jenkins of NPR said it had a "classic look" both in visuals and in storytelling; visually, "with widescreen compositions, overhead shots and dramatic contrasts of light and dark", and in its narrative "[s]ome sequences are quick and messy, but others are grand and theatrical." Morgenstern said, "pace is deliberate, [and] the tone is pensive, albeit punctuated by occasional violence."
Madsen was influenced by Jean-Pierre Melville's Army of Shadows (1969), about the French Resistance, especially "the way it told its story through only rituals and dialogue". He watched it about half a year before filming Flame & Citron, and it also inspired "the mythologizing of the characters" in Flame & Citron. Manohla Dargis of The New York Times affirmed "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." Abeel said, "In its tough-mindedness Flame [& Citron] owes much to Jean-Pierre Melville's Army of Shadows."
Flame & Citron debuted in Danish theaters on 28 March 2008 and premiered on 28 August 2008 in Germany. The film was seen by over 770,000 people in Europe; it had a public of 668,000 in Denmark, making it the most watched film in the country that year. It grossed $9,210,518 in Denmark for a total of 10,186,084 from screenings in twelve other countries—Argentina, Austria, Colombia, Germany, Greece, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Despite its success, the film "has shocked Danish audiences" for its portrayal of the protagonists as non-heroic, and has garned criticism from historians.
Critics response to the film was mixed—mostly positive—in Denmark; praise was directed towards Madsen's direction, the performances of Lindhardt and Mikkelsen, as well as Stengade and Mygind, and more divided opinions were pronnounced about the portrayal of the main characters. Berlingske 's Ebbe Iversen commented that it can be both good and bad to have morally ambiguous characters as it can be seen as "an artistic force" to have "authentic protagonists psychology", but it can also be frustrating to have their motives "enigmatic." The critic stated it did not make it a bad film, instead "its subtle, not uncritical portrayal of the resistance seems sober and serious, the style is worked out to the smallest detail, and in its outer form the film is the type of work that you unkindly call conventional and more kindly describe as classic."
Henrik Queitsch of Ekstra Bladet praised the action sequences for its details, even saying it is the best Danish war film ever, and affirmed it is also "a booming interesting history and a multifaceted psychological portrait - not only of Flame and Citron, but also of the many people they come across in their path." On the other hand, Kim Skotte of Politiken said it had more gunfire shooting scenes than psychological aspects, as it lacked more detailed explanation of character's background to justify their personalities. Writing for Jyllands-Posten, Johs. H. Christensen further affirmed that it "never occurs any real connection, no excitement, no interaction, no common destiny between Flame and Citron, although they are inextricably linked most of the time."
DR's Per Juul Carlsen declared that although the film is visually beautiful, he is not sure it should be this way: "Had it not been better and more correct to tell the story really ugly and blurry in the rain instead of sunshine ... with realism instead of polished exquisiteness[?]". He also criticized it for sharing too much of the American gangster films and spy films clichés. The most critical review was done by Georg Metz of Dagbladet Information, who criticized its historicity and thought the characters were psychological underdeveloped and uniteressant. Metz wrote, "The nicest [thing] one can say about this film, if it is nice, is that it celebrates the naive view of history" and described it as "[a] neo-nationalistic panopticon of predominantly cardboard figures that will be suitable for evening entertainment for the Danish People's Party and the Liberal Party congresses. Quite apart from that about a third of the dialogue is to understand, because the players do not articulate appropriate."
The film was generally well received by Western critics. Based on 70 reviews collected by Rotten Tomatoes, it has an overall approval rating of 87 percent from critics and an average score of 6.8 out of 10. According to the website's consensus, the film "though lengthy and sprawling, is gripping and competently made." Metacritic, which assigns a normalised rating from 100 top reviews by mainstream critics, calculated a score of 74 based on 20 reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
SFGate 's Walter stated, "[t]hough the material might lend itself to heavy-handedness, director Ole Christian Madsen is steady, and he gets fine performances from the two leads and [Stine] Stengade." The actors performance was also praised by Fine, who said "Lindhardt and Mikkelsen make a fascinating team", while "Stengade is appropriately slippery". Todd McCarthy from Variety asserted that "[p]erformances are low-key but resolute and brimming with nerves and intensity." Marc Savlov of The Austin Chronicle commented that "Mikkelsen and Lindhardt are spectacularly invested in their roles. ... Beyond that is a drop-dead gorgeous period noir, rife with paranoia, femmes fatales, and good men inexorably sinking into the bloody mire and opaque texture of life (and death) during wartime."
Abeel praised how by "[a]voiding the docu-style string of anecdotes of many fact-based films, it offers the shapeliness and irony of classic drama." Hammond commended Madsen as the film "achieves a sense of psychological complexity – and a pervasive atmosphere of fear and confusion – without sacrificing the rhythm and dramatic tension necessary to a war film." Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly praised its combination of "sharp scenes of moral inquiry with a few too many functional, oldfangled espionage twists." Fuchs applauded the interpolation of emotional relations as they "help to make Flame & Citron 's taut action even more effective. Beautifully choreographed and filmed in deep shadows that cut the violence into shadowy, brutal fragments, Flame and Citron's jobs are at once thrilling and disconcerting." Kate Taylor from The Globe and Mail, however, said the romantic relation, "predictable in a James Bond kind of way, is the weakest link in the script".
Nick de Semlyen from Empire was moderated, saying "It's familiar ground for anyone who's seen Black Book or Sophie Scholl, but director Ole Christian Madsen steers a skilful course, keeping things grim but not to an off-putting extent, bringing a David Lynch-esque vibe to Flame's hotel dalliances with a shady lady and pulling off an incredible death scene for one of the leads." Noel Murray of The A.V. Club criticized it for "hammer[ing] too hard on the shopworn theme of how war sickens souls. Far more interesting is Flame & Citron 's other theme: the idea that war turns the notion of 'shades of gray' into a luxury." V.A. Musetto, for New York Post, commented that although it "features well-choreographed shootouts and assassinations", its "script is too melodramatic and complicated for its own good." Burr mostly praised it but said that "Madsen eventually loses his way"; he criticized the "not enough" information about Citron and stated that the film "feels packed with events and frustratingly unfocused". Derakhshani argued that it "has some rough, tedious patches - at 130 minutes, it's simply too long. And its reiteration of Hollywood cliches isn't always successful. Regardless, it is, along with Paul Verhoeven's Black Book, one of the most accomplished films to come out of the recent wave of neoclassic and revisionist WWII films".
Comparisons to other films
Jenkins said the best scenes in Flame and Citron are the ones who share Army of Shadows 's "chaos", and criticised what he described to be an aspiration "to be a noble national epic, rather than the rougher, more universal tale of two desperate men fighting for a cause". To Jenkins, Melville's film had "more cogent outlook" because "[f]ighting the Nazis was just like any other gang war — a mad scramble to survive." On the other hand, Dargis commented that Army of Shadows 's "lack of pity" makes it "so unbearably sad, it's almost repellent hardness of heart. What Flame & Citron has instead are decent men taking down Nazis ... and some appealing actors." Slant Magazine 's Tom Stempel affirmed, "I found Army of Shadows both admirable and chilling, and in some ways Flame & Citron is even better."
Although praised the "beautifully choreographed and shot" action sequences, Murray criticized it for "lean[ing] toward the handsome and thoughtful when it could stand to be a lot dirtier and more visceral," citing Black Book as a "superb counter-example." Stempel declared that it "is not as exciting as" Black Book, "but Verhoeven was dealing with people having to make complex moral decisions instantaneously. Flame & Citron takes its time to turn the screws on its characters, and us." Taylor, however, argued in favor of Flame & Citron, saying it "is the film that the horribly overrated Black Book could have been, had Paul Verhoeven not indulged in the puerile reversals of sensitive Nazis and treacherous partisans." Fuchs also compared the moral dillemas the characters have to deal with to Black Book and Steven Spielberg's Munich but said Flame & Citron has not "the splendid surrealish excess" and "the weird conflation of maternal bodies and motherlands" of them respectively. Gleiberman could "feel the shadow of Steven Spielberg's Munich hovering over Flame & Citron".
Another film it was compared to was Inglourious Basterds; Brad Auerbach, for Entertainment Today, wrote that "Whereas Inglorious Basterds contains a bevy of cleverly humorous moments as it builds to its climax, Flame & Citron is a calculated and somber treatment of an intriguingly difficult topic." O'Sullivan said that "Inglourious Basterds-style wish fulfillment this isn't," and Burr dubbed it "the anti-Inglourious Basterds". O'Sullivan said that it shared similiarities to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid as it is "the story of handsome rogues with guns. It's fast-paced, stylish and thrilling. But it also raises one tough question." Taylor, however, commented that as opposed to Cassidy and Kid, Flame and Citron "remain an imperfectly matched duo". St. Louis Post-Dispatch 's Joe Williams said that in contrast to "lavish thrillers" Black Book, Inglourious Basterds and Avatar of Hollywood-ish "heroic defiance", Flame and Citron is "lean and psychological, rooted in the either-or of wartime choices."
Art-house film status
Usually described as a drama or a thriller, Flame & Citron can also be classified as a historical drama, a war film, a war drama (or a war thriller), and a gangster drama. However, as it has been screened in art-house places in the United States and Europe, it has also been described as such. Lodge stated it has "stately middle-arthouse stylings and thriller overtones." Addiego commented that it "has the look, and sometimes the pacing, of a serious Hollywood picture, but it has an art-house mood." Nick Roddick of London Evening Standard commented that "it could succumb to the Sod's Law of foreign-language cinema: make a arthouse movie too commercial and you risk losing both audiences." Abeel opined, "This icy portrait of two assassins shooting Nazis point-blank offers no Hollywood-style uplift to mollify mainstream viewers. But Flame [& Citron] should pull in a niche group of World War II connoisseurs and will delight art-house and fest audiences with its innovative mix of drama and history filtered through genre."
Awards and nominations
The film was nominated for fourteen Robert Awards, out of which winning Best Costume Design, Best Make-Up, Best Production Design, Best Sound, and Best Special Effects. Out of three Bodil Awards nominations, Flame & Citron won Best Cinematography. At the Zulu Awards, it won the three awards it was nominated for. The film was also nominated for but did not win any award from the European Film Awards, Marrakech International Film Festival, and Valladolid International Film Festival.
|List of awards and nominations|
The involvement of Danish people with Nazi and the assassinations commited by the resistance movement had been a taboo since World War II, with scholar literature on the topic only being produced from the 1980s and 1990s. Contemporary works on Flammen and Citron have been scarce; Madsen opined on this, "I think they didn't fit into the official storytelling on how Denmark behaved during the Second World War." Many of the members of resistance suffered from different traumas, became alcoholics or committed suicide and a very few survived. Because of this, in addition to researching for eight years in historical archives, Madsen and his crew interviewed surviving people related to them. Nonetheless, it has sparked controversy among historians.
The presentment of Flammen's death was challenged by Danish National Archives's Peter Birkelund. In the film Flammen commits suicide in his house basement after Gestapo finding him because of Ketty's delation. Birkelund, however, says Flammen was dead on a coastal road while Gestapo was looking for another resistance member. In opposition, the scenary of Citron's death, which would require 250 soldiers, was counsciously altered by Madsen because of budgetary reasons.
Ketty depicted as a double agent and Flammen's lover has been contested by Birkelund. However, Madsen was sure about the affair and found in a Stockholm archive a receipt for 20,000 Danish crowns given to her by the Gestapo two days after Flammen's death. Her involvement with Gestapo's leader, Hoffmann, and her refusal to talk about the topic were decisive to Madsen's conclusion.
In the film Aksel Winther, who was based on Vilhelm Leifer, are the one who gives Flammen and Citron orders to kill. Birkelund pointed he had already moved to Sweden by the time of their assassinations, while Madsen stated he was sure Leifer gave orders before lefting the country. Also, they met Frode Jacobsen in a meeting in Sweden and he is said to give orders from there. Birkelund refused the ideia of Jacobsen giving orders and Madsen said the meetings were created by him to show that the resistance movements of that time had different approaches than nowadays counterparts.
Citron's relationship with his wife was debated because historians contest she betrayed Citron as she gave birth to their child immediately after his death. Madsen was sure the betrayal happened but he took the liberty of affirming the couple did not get back together. Madsen declared, "I do not think it is morally tarnished to show that people have affairs with people they are not married to. It's a beautiful description of a relationship that falls apart in a time that had great personal cost."
Ole Ewé, a former member of BOPA—another group of the Danish resistance movement—disagreed over the description of the attempt of killing Gestapo's leader, Hoffman, in the road Roskildevej. In the film the car had Nazi flags, and a soldier and his son are killed by the resistance submachine guns. Ewé said that day he and other BOPA members were enlisted to kill Arno Oskar Hammeken, a Gestapo informer. Flammen, who also received tips about the informer's whereabouts, appeared there and shot against the car. However, said Ewé, the man in the car was in civilian clothes and there were no Nazi flags on the car.
According to The Irish Times, "Flame & Citron has sparked an emotive public debate in Denmark that has drawn all sorts of pseudo-experts out of the woodwork to debate the portrayal of the period and the two true-life figures." Madsen defended himself saying it was an interpretation that "though it may not correspond absolutely to reality, is somehow more true." Mikkelsen stressed that they were the first "to do the original research, yet we suddenly had a lot of so-called experts telling us how it really was and how we were wrong." The actor affirmed not too much is known about the period and they hope it sparks the debate so "people will research and think some more about it."
In the book Historicizing the Uses of the Past, edited by Helle Bjerg, Claudia Lenz and Erik Thorstensen, the authors compared the critics Flame & Citron received for its historical representation to the ones Max Manus: Man of War, a Norwergian film also about the resistance, received. While Madsen's film has been highly criticized by historians, Max Manus gained the status of "real past" and received only a few critics that were dismissed by resistance veterans, politicians and even the king Harald V. Bjer et al. argued that the difference in reception may be attributed to the films' content as "In stark contrast to Flame & Citron, [Max Manus] doesn't challenge the notions of the right and the wrong side and the unambiguous good cause."
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