Sunday, July 10, 2011
FLAME AND CITRON THE MOVIE
Last night's foreign film was FLAME AND CITRON, a recent Danish film of the Danish Resistance during Nazi occupation. Flame and Citron were the code names of two Danish men whose role in the resistance was killing Nazis and collaborators. They did it in the belief that killing them was the best way of getting rid of them. Both of them were guys who could have had a good life for themselves ultimately, but in time of war they gave their lives to the people of Denmark. Whether what they did really made any difference was a recurring question among them, sometimes concluding they did make a difference and sometimes concluding they did not. Their role was to assassinate particular individuals. One of them would walk up to the man, call his name from behind, the man stopped, turned and received a bullet. Toward the end, as the Nazis were looking for them and knew their style, the character Flame walked behind a Nazi officer and when he called the man's name, the man turned around with a gun and they shot simultaneously, both of them hit. A car picked up Flame and the Nazi officer on the ground shot at the car as it sped out of sight.
They started their killing as amateurs, Citron throwing up after his first kill, Flame covering the eyes of a woman with his hand before shooting her in the head. He never wanted to kill a woman, but a woman was his first assignment. He later did himself in by refusing to kill a woman he'd been told to kill and later she exposed him. Both of them tried to carry out their missions as coldly as could be done, but they always had internal reactions. Their first kills were easy to get away with, but the Nazis set a trap for them that worked. At a certain point, they learned that the people they had killed were the wrong ones, they'd received not necessarily the best information. They questioned the value of what they were doing all through the story, but even when they concluded what they were doing had no value toward defeating the Nazis, they stayed with it because they were so deeply committed within to the war effort there was no way out. They were eventually trapped by the two people Flame was assigned to kill, but when the moment came to pull the trigger, he could not do it.
Both Flame and Citron were interesting characters without being people I'd care to know. They were just a couple of guys with jobs and families, their lives shut down and poverty enforced by the war of German occupation. One thing I've heard from a Dane that was not brought up in the film, solely because it was not an issue in the time of the story yet, was when the Nazis proclaimed all Jews must wear an armband with the star of David on it, everyone in Denmark wore a star of David armband. Denmark was the only country to do that. As a result of this collective stand, I respect the Danish people the highest of any other people I know of. What little I know of their history made me sympathetic with these two assassins who were not particularly likable people, but committed what they had left of their lives to the Danish people. They evidently became heroes among the Danes, encouraging the German need to eliminate them with extreme prejudice.
While I can say I thought it a beautiful film in every regard, conception, script, acting, photography, directing, that it really satisfied me as a work of art in the genre of film, I didn't come away from it awed by the greatest movie I ever saw. Yet it is so satisfying as itself, following the flow of its story, it doesn't have to be best, next best, anything to do with judgment. It's a film that is what it is. Almost a documentary, it has the sense that somebody with a camera was there like a fly on the wall filming it as it happened. I liked that immediacy and the detachment of a documentary that followed the activities of these two guys separately and together. The two actors never seemed to know they were making a movie. The character development of the two assassins was in their actions and their thoughts. Who they were as individuals is how they were developed, instead of what they were. Both were too young to have anything much behind them but school. They were guys who believed they were up to what they committed to, and found through the course of the story they were not, yet they were.
Two and a half hours felt like no more than an hour and a half. It wasn't necessarily action that held my attention to the story's progression. It feels more like intensity of emotion, almost breathless from circumstances throughout the story. In a place occupied by a foreign army that doesn't give the remotest shit about any of the Danes, it was dangerous just to go about in a car or walk carrying a gun, a pistol in a coat pocket. These two guys were in continuous danger and we watched what happened to them psychologically as the danger intensified unto their last act. The feeling in the film was powerful without being big-deal dramatic in their own stories. The drama was intensity held inside and sometimes the feelings they were controlling stoically bore into them like worms. The film depicted the Danes as people who keep their feelings to themselves, demonstrating little to nothing of what they are feeling, a bit like the mountain people in that way. The drama with the two assassins was inside themselves. On the outside, they appeared cool and serene, and the story we watched was what went on inside them, seeing them stumble drawing conclusions and reading the moment from time to time, operating in the dark of the unknown.
A time and place where nothing is certain made the story particularly lifelike, in that even though we know our own landscape and the people around us and have an idea we think we know what is going on in our worlds, like the guys in the film, we don't. We take so much so seriously that we create our own anxieties, like the guys in the film making every moment a life and death drama boiling inside. Getting the insurance payment paid on time, the house payment, the car payment, the pickup payment, gas for the car and truck, food for self and the kids, the life and death concerns of our time for the people that have to shop at Walmart. Perhaps I was most impressed in the film that the director and the actors made a story of people eaten alive from within by worry, and told dramatically how it feels. There was plenty of gun play going on. It's ultimately a men-with-guns action movie, an art film of the genre, one that shows what is going on inside the characters, and at the same time shows what is going on in the external world of Nazi occupation. The intimacy of the world on the outside and the world in the inside is such they become the same.