World War II is more than the savagery of armies and its layers of inhumanity provides an endless source of stories and meditations on the goodness or its lack in man. It is also a place to celebrate national resistance to such evil, which can have the effect of both celebrating the nation, obscuring the questionable. Flame and Citron (Denmark 2008) enters this area with the true story of two assassins in the Danish resistance. They are efficient killers who assassinate Danes who collaborate with the Germans, showing little mercy when they strike. They seem to enjoy the life of the spy and get a rush from it. They are also motivated by a hatred for the Germans and a national pride. In one scene, Flame (the code name of one of the killers) recounts the day the Germans marched into Denmark and how sick he felt watching them march in. Eventually, it all comes to an end as the intrigues become more and more complicated and Flame and Citron do not know who to trust and the members of their group begin to be arrested by the Gestapo.The movie is an excellent thriller, although it is never clear how Flame and Citron could meet with their group in the same bar time after time, nor how they can just take of to Sweden so easily, but those are small quibbles. The film is solid and the tension of the occupied is palpable; in other words, a good World War II film with a web of complexities that go beyond the war.
The more interesting question is what happens after the movie, when the text that explains what happened after the war begins appearing on-screen. It turns out that Flame and Citron were national heroes, they were given a national funeral and buried with honors, and they were even awarded the Medal of Freedom by the US in the early 50s. These details are historical, but they are also about national pride. It is a pride that comes from defeating a great evil. Yet at the same time in a war that was, among other things, a war of extreme nationalism, it seems a little off-putting. The film doesn’t celebrate taking a page from the Nazi’s and there isn’t a moral equivalence between the two sides, but there is that hint. But what are war movies for? occasionally testaments, sometimes opposition, but often a source of pride, even in those that were meant to be in the first two camps.
No, Flame and Citron isn’t Danish propaganda; it is a spy movie, complete with shifting allegiances and a femme fatal who out lives everyone, showing the justice, even when one is victorious, is not always served. At its best it is a reminder of war’s brutality, but also its intoxicating effects.