Once you resist the temptations of masterpieces like Crocodile Dundee II and BoJack Horseman, Netflix tends to have a pretty sizable catalogue of foreign films for your viewing pleasure. Flame and Citron, while relatively well-known in Denmark (as Flammen & Citronen), passed without much notice in the States and elsewhere upon its release in 2008. Thure Lindhardt and Mads Mikkelsen star as Danish Resistance fighters Bent Faurschou-Hviid (“Flame”) and Jørgen Haagen Schmith (“Citron”), rogue assassins of Nazi officers who increasingly take matters into their own hands as WWII progresses.
Lindhardt is the real find here, as is director Ole Christian Madsen, while Mikkelsen will be much more familiar to American audiences from his roles in the ongoing Hannibal series and as the Bond villain Le Chiffre in Casino Royale. At the start of the film both men just want to serve their country by ridding it of evil men, and though Mikkelsen’s Citron certainly transforms throughout the film from a timid tagalong to a ruthless assassin, it’s Lindhardt’s Flame who goes on the real journey. “There is no just or unjust any longer,” the pair agree. “There is only war.” Flame embodies this sentiment completely – but interestingly, he does so in part by wrestling with it and ultimately defying it.
There are more than a few weak scenes throughout Flame and Citron, such as the seemingly obligatory meeting between protagonist Flame and the chief antagonist, SS Head Hoffmann, in which the latter seethes cliches like “We are the same, you and I” in snakelike tones. While the majority of the film – especially the very last scenes – feel authentic and true-to-life, moments like this feel much more like fabricated movie drama.
That ending, though, hits home in a very particular way. It’s obvious that Flame and Citron took many cues from Army of Shadows and other similarly-set WWII yarns, but there are deeper connections with more broad and classic tales of men at war – I’ll go so far as to relate Flame and Citron to Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, at risk of reading too much into things. Like Coriolanus, Flame is filled to the brim with passion about his conduct in wartime, the conduct of the men and women around him, burning with rage at the way the structures of such a time demand he act in unnatural ways. Further solidifying the comparison is the depiction of Coriolanus in Ralph Fiennes’s 2011 adaptation, in which the great warrior is last seen being tossed into the back of a truck like so many pounds of lifeless meat.
Both Flame and Citron meet the exact same demise. For all of their battling on physical and emotional and moral fronts, for the sheer scale of their cause and the colossal sacrifices they both made in order to see that cause achieved, both men end up dead and lumped into the back of a truck. Nazi officers jump into the truck bed and sit smiling with the dead bodies as others laugh and photograph the posed corpses. Can such a dark ending be the central message of a WWII film made within the last decade? What goes on after these bodies are buried?
The answer, one may take away from Flame’s final soliloquy, is that it all goes on. There is no doubt that Flame and Citron ends depressingly for the men and their families. But the flame, the fire of resistance that these men stoked in each other and in men like them, is still lit.