Thanks to BBC4, I’ve finally managed to see this film which forms part of a recent surge of World War II films produced in countries occupied by the Nazis. I hope to report on Max Manus from Norway soon and there is already a posting on Winter in Wartime (Netherlands 2009). Another recent title is the Hollywood film Defiance (2008) – though it was made by Polish-American Edward Zwick.
Each of these films explores an aspect of war in occupied territories that isn’t so well known outside the domestic market and may indeed be news to younger domestic audiences. The films tend to have been big successes at home and to have gained wider distribution overseas. ‘Flame’ and ‘Citron’ were historical figures, working as assassins for the Danish resistance. Posing as police officers they carry out orders from British intelligence delivered via a controller in Copenhagen. The local police and ambulance services support them but they have to be careful not to attract the attention of the collaborationist police force comprising Danish Nazis – and, of course, the whole panoply of German Occupation forces, but especially the Gestapo.
‘Flame’ (he has red hair) is a 23 year-old in 1943. His father, a hotel owner sent him to Germany in 1940 and his exposure to the Nazis he worked alongside confirmed his worst fears. ‘Citron’ (named because he worked on Citroen cars as a mechanic) is a family man and the war wrecks his marriage. The two aim to assassinate only Danish collaborators and difficulties arise when they are told to kill three Germans, including a senior army officer and his wife. From this point on it becomes impossible for the duo to know who is ‘controlling’ them and what the eventual aims of the resistance might be. It seems that they can only depend on each other.
This is a much darker film than the Norwegian and Dutch films. The production, by Nimbus Films included shoots in the Babelsberg Studio in Potsdam as well as in Copenhagen and Prague. Director Ole Christian Madsen used a moving camera and staged action in long shot on almost empty streets but also in crowded bars etc. Overall the sthe production cost nearly 7 million Euros – very expensive by Danish standards. I thought everything worked very well. Madsen claims to have been inspired by Jean-Pierre Melville’s L’armée des ombres. I’m not sure that it reaches as high as that masterpiece, but certainly I found it gripping and thought-provoking. I confess that after two series of The Killing and now halfway through Borgen on BBC4, I’m starting to spot Danish actors. There are three in this including Peter Mygind who plays a seemingly unreliable character, just as he does in Borgen. Stine Stengade (also in a similar role to her Borgen character) strikes perhaps the only odd note as a rather conventional femme fatale figure in what is otherwise a downbeat and realist portrayal of resistance activity, far removed from Hollywood heroics.
The more I see of these kinds of films, the more I admire the people who could carry out resistance under occupation – not because I’m being carried along on a nostalgic flag-waving wave but because I recognise human beings taking risks and accepting both likely failure and possible death because they believe in something or someone.