Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Resistance is not futile

There is a powerful air of authenticity that clings to European films about World War II, and especially when they originate from some of the smaller combatants, who had less of a hand in creating the narrative of the war as it is known by the masses.

So Flame and Citron (2008), a Danish story told by Danes has a strong pull, especially given that while Denmark was occupied, it was permitted to continue its own government. Thus the Allies could not officially recognize, sanction, fund or command the Danish resistance. So even though there were lines of communication with the Allies, the Danes were truly out there on their own.

In this era of phony military experts like Sylvester Stallone, it is refreshing to see the fight taken into the hands of untrained civilians, who have nothing but will, passion and a few simple weapons to bring down the Reich. Moreover, much of the film is about the relationship between these two men (who actually lived). One reviewer compared them--while acknowledging the strangeness of the reference--to Butch and Sundance. That bond is critical, because given the thin support they have and the stakes involved, no one can be trusted. Films about underground movements are, by their very nature, about ambiguity and about betrayal.

So the betrayal comes, not from the comrade in arms, but from a lover, Ketty, who begins an affair with "Flame" (nicknamed for his red hair), while continuing her affair with the head of the SS in Denmark. And Citron betrays his family in a sense, placing their needs below those of ... what? his country? his comrades? his need to assert his masculinity through violence?

Flame and Citron are not noble do-gooders. They are killers, albeit with amateur origins. They disobey orders, they endanger others, they are reckless and often vindictive. They are not simple straightforward heroes. Their quest destroys them, body AND soul. So the question for the viewer is-- would you do as they did? Would you sacrifice all, be content to reap nothing? Not even be sure if there is anything to be reaped by others, when you had the choice to be and remain safe?

The filmmaking is not groundbreaking--film writers merely note the influence of Jean-Pierre Melville's Army of Shadows, an even more terse and pitiless film, by all reports, which I will be writing about soon. In the meantime, it is good to see some ambiguity and complexity being permitted into the once monolithic telling of the story of the Greatest Generation and their Good War.

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