Born To Set It Right
Improbable beyond Hogan’s Heroes, this hero’s nom de guerre denoting the brightest of carrottops, he walks among his pursuers in broad Danish daylight. An unprecedented 20,000 kroner on that “most wanted man’s” red head in Flame & Citron, alongside partner-driver “Citron” (Mads Mikkelsen) “Flame” (Thure Lindhardt) guns down Copenhagen Nazis, Schalburg Corps Danes in German uniforms, officials, collaborators, snitches, profiteers, opportunists, and double and triple agents in this “based on actual events” cousin of Holland’s “realistic depiction of history” Black Book.
War mandates killing, oftentimes of the innocent, and blood is difficult to stanch. “War can be so confusing,” observes a character suspect, and, as though to underline the point, this noir in underlit blacks and blues grows too complex for its own good. Losing the audience in twists, it wraps up Bonnie and Clyde-Sonny Corleone style and lets printed titles announce the fates of those involved.
Many characters are indistinguishable, even if a voice introduces Resistance faces gathered in the P. Lund bar openly shared with the enemy. No matter, as most of these small fry are never more than window dressing, anyway. The leader of these assassin-saboteurs is Aksel Winther (Peter Mygind), a stickler for obedience and himself answerable to a smorgasbord of internal and international organizations.
At a strategy session in Stockholm, it is callously remarked that the country is going to need heroes afterwards, to talk up to schoolchildren. Today a real-life hero in his homeland, Flame lives in a basement where his friend and accomplice more or less bunks, too, has little expectation for his own future, and for the moment balks only at killing women. His face shadowed by stubble, round glasses, a slouch hat and muffler, Citron, on the other hand, misses daughter Anne (Mai Holm Laureng) and, physically and emotionally, wife Bodil (Mille Hoffmeyer Lehfeldt) but knows that family life is not for him.
For reasons which have nothing to do with where the story goes, Flame is not fond of his father (Jesper Christenson), a timeserver whose woodsy hotel caters to Nazis and their families and mistresses. The hotelier’s having sent the son to Germany to learn the business is awfully roundabout for explaining the son’s language skills that allow him to be dissuaded, or cajoled, from a hit on Colonel Gilbert (Hanns Zischler), the beginning of a slide downwards into chaos for him and the film.
Flame charms a slinky blonde who turns him down but knows his real name and so must be tailed to plush digs at the Nordland Hotel. Ketty Selmer’s (Stine Stengade) tresses are false; she may be as well, telling the twenty-three-year-old he is too young for her and that she is married to a compliant gay man. Obsessed with secrecy, she in fact says a lot, that she travels, something to do with designers or photography or some Army Intelligence or being a courier of secret or false documents. They wind up in bed on this long winding road, as she furnishes information she shouldn’t and which he must promise not to act upon, at times accurate but at others tragically not so. For more intrigue, Ketty “knows” Winther and, at official Dagmarhus or Flame’s father’s unofficial trysting place, consorts with “the biggest mass murderer Denmark has known,” Gestapo chief Karl Heinz Hoffmann (Christian Berkel).
Shootings, bombings, arson and reprisals escalate in 1944, people are killed who are subsequently revealed to be double agents, Resistance fighters are betrayed, and a Stockholm task force confrontation brings out cross-purposes, including London’s insistence on a period of calm preparatory to invasion. The two “soldiers without a front” are bewildered in the mass of alibis, counterclaims, alliances and expediencies, from which the redhead sees no out, while, meeting bicycling nurse Marie (Marie Christenson-Dalsgaard) too late, Citron ensures his family’s future and tosses his own to the wind. They consider the circumstantial morality of shedding blood, but this is a mere cosmetic aside for screen show, and nobody cites Ben Franklin that “there never was a good war.”
To compensate for an uninspired title, Flame & Citron imagines complications within complications that, unlike those of true ‘40s noirs, cannot be ignored in the fun of witty dialogue and characterization. Existential considerations are not the point, and whereas Danes flocked to the film, they may be presumed to root for the home team and come armed with foreknowledge that we lack of the players, scorecard and rules.
(Released by IFC Films; not rated by MPAA.)