Flame & Citron is about the Danish Resistance during World War II. “Flame” and “Citron” are the nicknames or code names of two Resistance fighters. (“Flame” has red hair; “Citron” either works at a Citroen automobile factory or killed a bunch of Nazis at one—I read both online.) Flame and Citron’s primary Resistance activity is basically to act as hit men, gunning down those they are ordered to take out.
This is another of those “based on a true story” movies. Before doing some reading on the subject matter online after seeing the movie, I would have guessed this is fictionalized even more than most such movies. There are just too many daring escape close calls and heroic last stands by hugely outnumbered heroes and such, not to mention a whole romantic subplot that didn’t feel real to me.
What I found in my reading, though, is that the ways the movie is alleged to deviate from reality mostly fall into one of two categories: they’re fairly small details, or they probably happened roughly as depicted but the evidence is inconclusive and so there’s some controversy about that. But it appears there are few if any major things that the filmmakers out-and-out made up in order to improve the story or further some agenda. Flame & Citron seems to be reasonably close to what actually happened, or at least what there’s good reason to think actually happened.
This isn’t a simple good versus evil war movie, with heroic Danish underdogs battling villainous Nazis. To its credit it is far more nuanced and ambiguous than that. Certainly it’s not neutral as to the relative moral merits of Nazis and those who opposed them, but it’s a reminder that even what initially can look like the starkest contrast between good guys and bad guys generally ends up a lot more complicated on closer examination.
That avoidance of oversimplification doesn’t just make the movie more true to life, it frankly makes it more interesting. The moral conflicts and dilemmas are much more intriguing to me than if this were just a lot of dramatic gunfights and rousing tough guy monologues.
I’ll touch on a few of these complications.
There are ongoing debates over whom to target to kill. Do you go for the highest value targets that you have a realistic chance of getting, like top Gestapo leaders in occupied Denmark? Flame for one consistently argues for this, but that seems to not be favored by most of those giving the orders. The alternate strategy that they more often push is to do the most you can without provoking massive retaliation (which would mostly fall on random, innocent Danish civilians) but no more, which generally means targeting, for example, mid-level Danish collaborators, and alleged fellow Resistance fighters who are double agents and informers and such. As D-Day approaches, the Resistance leaders become especially cautious, on the grounds that there’s no reason to trigger a premature bloodbath when shortly they will need all their fighters to rise up in support of the arriving Allied troops.
Unfortunately even when it is decided whom to kill, there’s often ambiguity about whether that’s morally the right choice, especially when you’re the one expected to pull the trigger. Some of the Nazis and collaborators confronted by an assassin plead for their life based on the claim that they are only pretending to support the German war effort and in fact are doing all they can from the inside to resist it. Generally no doubt that’s bullshit, just someone desperately lying to save their life, but how can you know in a given case that it’s not sincere?
As far as killing people on your own side—alleged informers and such—how certain is it that they’re guilty of what you’ve been told they did? It’s not as if these people have received a fair trial, with strict rules of evidence and a presumption of innocence and all that.
Then to make it worse, Flame and Citron come upon evidence that one of the people choosing their targets has in fact been covering his own tracks by ordering people killed who know too much about his efforts to pursue his self-interest by cutting a few deals of his own with the bad guys, deals that may not look so good in retrospect after the war.
Even if you’re convinced that you’re only killing people it is justified for you to kill, what does it do to you as a human being to shoot down so many people in cold blood? (According to what I read online, Flame and Citron are estimated to have assassinated 20-30 people.) Citron is married; can he just go home to his wife and young daughter and be a sane and compassionate husband and father after doing what he does during the day? What kind of life will Flame and Citron have after the war, if they survive that long?
Flame & Citron is decent as an action movie, but is better as a deeper study of the morality of life and death choices in wartime. It’s worthy of a recommendation.