REVIEW: Flame and Citron

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FLAME AND CITRON
(Flammen and Citronen)
130 Minutes // Denmark-Germany // Nimbus Film Productions
dir. Ole Christian Madsen
Monday, July 6th, 2009
starring: Thure Lindhart, Mads Mikkelsen & Peter Mygind

This film is coming out on the 31st (of July) so check it out if it comes to a town near you!

Flame and Citron is the latest war thriller to come out of the European scene. Funded with roughly 12 million dollars, it is delightful to see how efficient director/co-writer of the film Ole Christian Madsen is with a budget – albeit one of the more hefty ones in Danish history.

A lot like Valkyrie on a much tinier scale, Flame and Citron is about the anti-Nazi conspiracy and the people who caused it to grow. Even though these freelance assassins are bound together by a chain of rulers – the same type of chain these men are fighting against – they have limited quarrels with how things are run and do as their leader Winther (Peter Mygind) says. Although he says that he only takes the names from British command, there seems something inconsistent about what he’s preaching. However, the two main men are too deeply in debt to their own emotions and perspectives of what they’re doing to notice this.

Flammen (Thure Lindhardt) and Citronen (Mads Mikkelsen) are two unlikely friends… if you can even call them that. Their friendship is portrayed as simple and primarily only adhered together by their professions – to null the Nazi regime and those who allow it to prosper.

What else cause these two men to be compelling outside of their professions are how dissimilar they are spiritually. Flammen – a young, easily manipulated, neurotic man – doesn’t seem like your typical “soldier”. In conversations that were never supposed to take place with people he was meant to kill, his outlook on his job changes eagerly and his mind never recovers. All of this stems from his vendetta based reason for joining the group in the first place. Citronen – an older, married and deeply affected man – seems perfectly fit for this job. Where Flammen is inconsistent, Citronen is dead-on and singledhandedly keeps them on focus. Whether it be his grocery shopping or bang-bang mentality he is always efficient.

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In comparison to Valkyrie, this film surpasses its efforts. After an invigorating and fuel-charged first hour, the emotional stories begin to take charge and the violence calms – unlike Valkyrie which is always slowed down. Although it isn’t much more entertaining or historically accurate, the direction is far grittier and the story is numbingly harrowing, especially when the film follows Citronen. Unlike von Staffenburg and his company, the group in Flame and Citron are defined by their action and brute force mentality. Planning is hardly a concern with the group of eight – their sole purpose is to act and act hard. With this you view a lot more brutality and a lot less intellect. Nonetheless, the heart is still there – and although I never once cared for Flammen and his ‘efforts’ – Citronen fulfilled my need for emotional comprehension well.

The major flaw I saw in this otherwise grand wartime thriller was Flammen’s entire persona. I loathed the character from the very beginning and he constantly makes mistakes that he is forewarned about. He does this on several occasions and it’s primarily a miserable site. His off-putting relationship with fellow annoying character Ketty (Stine Stengade), an agent for the anti-Nazi group set to quietly infiltrate the Nazi regime and report back with names. Their entire subplot – although it is the most primary plot in Flammen’s story – is predictable and frustrating. In contrast, the dreary and inauspicious romance between Citronen and wife Bodel (Mille Lehfeldt) – while playing a much small role – is more pragmatic and impacting on the story; even if it’s only to give Citronen another layer.

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Although it has lapses in pleasure and has a major flaw in the romance mentioned above, it is relatively a refreshing, if not somewhat typical World War II espionage tale. In addition to its intriguing plot, it is also aesthetically beautiful. Jørgen Johansson creates a deliciously grimacing color pallete as the backdrop for this violent tale. Although the scenery is generally simplistic, his vision for lighting is beautiful to say the least. If I had to compare the cinematography to any other film, it would have to be with Zwartboek (Black Book). The blend of usual lights, autumn scenery/art design and cigarette smoke creates a very divine and poetic setting.

In the end, this film is a large scale tale of a very simple theme: “what drives men to take such extreme actions?”. In Citronen’s case, it is for the freedom of his family and his hope for freedom – this makes him admirable and his outlook on life is constantly enlightened. Unfortunately, the film semi-misses its mark in the case of Flammen and reasons that seemed unlikely. In light of this, he is always fighting in the name of love, so I’ll throw the writers a bone there.

Although it isn’t an enduring 130 minutes and never focuses on the hardships that the Nazi regime caused, Flame and Citron is nonetheless a gritty look at the men that tried to collapse them before they fell to its end in ’44. The two leading men have interesting chemistry together and Mads Mikkelsen turns in another shining performance. His expressive face is always suited for emotionally conflicted men – and most aren’t nearly as conflicted as Flammen.

As tragic as it is gritty, Flame and Citron is hardly as silly as the title would make it seem. [7/10]

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