Coming off of Netflix this week is a film I’ve had in my queue for quite some time. Flammen & Citronen is the story of Danish resistance fighters during the German occupation during the latter part of the Second World War.
It got in there back before the ratings were eliminated because it has been highly regarded by critics and viewers. But I really had no idea what it is about*. Like many of the foreign-language films I’ve watched before, there were two big deterrents.
First, the cover art. On the Netflix menu (which I also hate with a passion, I might add), it uses the box art from the DVD version. But, because the pictures are in landscape rather than letter format, the picture is much more focused in. Online, it is just two rather unique looking characters, young and well dressed. What is missing is the background of that picture from the box cover, where they are in front of an image of German troops marching through Copenhagen. Without that background image, the picture tells nothing about the film.
Which brings me to the translation of the title. In Danish, the code names of the two main characters may well be known to the potential viewers. They received posthumous awards for their wartime activity, and are part of the national identity. Thus the title may actually tell many that they are going to see a film about a story that they already know. For American, the title is translate to Flame & Citron, which really threw me.
To me, Citron is a Swedish word. I learned if from the Absolute ads. I also had a Venezuelan acquaintance who opened a nightclub of that name in Caracas, naming it after the Vodka. (As a result, I assumed that Citron was also “lemon” in Spanish, but that’s neither here nor there). In English (and Spanish for that matter), Citron is the fruit from Southeast Asia.
The use of Flame and what I assumed was a foreign world, combined with the cover art, made me assume this was some kind of gay thing. Like I said, I don’t read the blurbs.
Without that misdirection, the code name Flammen was in fact fairly obvious. Flammen, whose real name was Bent Faurschou-Hviid, had bright orange hair, and is portrayed as such by the actor and on the cover art. This feature was well known to the Germans, even though they didn’t know his true identity.
Citronen (real name Jørgen Schmith) did not look like a lemon.
Helpfully, the Wikipedia article linked above warns us that Citron is “not to be confused with Citroën.” Indeed, it is this play on words that gave Schmith his code name. He firebombed of a Citroën garage destroying six German military cars and a tank. The name of “lemon” (he does seem somewhat sour in the movie’s portrayal) is a reference to that incident.
Flame and Lemon would have been better, although not as catchy. Flammen and Citronen would have worked, as it is just as obvious to English speakers (at least those that go to see subtitled movies) what that means. Flame and Citron just sucks lemons.
To the film itself, it is a pretty decent watch. It does an excellent job of showing the chaos of a society in civil war.
“Civil war?” you say. But this is about the Second World War, the largest of international conflicts?
Yes, but Denmark was never a front in that war. Denmark was captured with little resistance, with barely two dozen killed on each side. The Danish government negotiated terms of the occupation to leave much control in the hands of Danish civilians.
Thus, many (if not most) citizens were willing to cooperate with the Germans with the hope of being left alone. Even decidedly anti-Nazi government officials were actively cooperating in the hope to preserve some part of Danish democracy in what had the potential to become a German-controlled Europe. It is likely that there were others who were pro-Nazi who were enthusiastic supporters of the new reality.
Resistance took many forms. The film takes place in the months leading up to, and immediately following, the allied invasion of Normandy. The communist resistance is shown as a significant force, motivated by Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union. After the institution of martial law in August of 1943, factions within the Danish government itself began to organize resistance. The film follows the group Holger Danske (named after a Danish hero of the time of Charlemagne), a group formed by veterans of the Winter War in Finland.
It is with this background that the film focuses on issues of trust and betrayal. One never knows if a fellow countryman is a collaborator, working for the official government, working for the British, or driven by ideological or even personal reasons (a major plot point involves using the resistors to assassinate so as to cover up financial indiscretions). When one doesn’t know who will ultimately “come out on top,” the issues of trust become more complex. Fighting side-by-side with communists will only last until the Red Army enters Denmark from the east, at which point the resistors become the collaborators, and vise-versa.
The film uses the speculation that the Faurschou-Hviid was turned in by a girlfriend, and fellow resistor, for the Nazi reward. And while Faurschou-Hviid killed himself to avoid capture, said girlfriend survived the war and lived to old age. It is speculative, but when survival depends on trust, ultimately (it seems so often) that trust winds up broken.
One final thought on the film. Having recently watched a Norwegian film, I was surprised with the comparison between spoken language. In The Heavy Water War I often picked up on short phrases here and there, where I could understand the Norwegian speakers. With Danish, it was rare I could pick up on a single word. “Thanks.” Also “Flammen,” and that’s almost it. Giving the similarity between the two languages, I found that odd.
*I try to avoid reading any of the summary blurbs, either online or on Netflix dust jackets, because they are apt to either give away plot points or completely misrepresent the content of a film. In fact, doing both simultaneously is pretty common. In many cases, it seems unlikely that the person who writes the summary even watched any of the movie itself.