"Do you remember April 9? I bet you do. Everyone does." The line, from Ole Christian Madsen's new film "Flame & Citron", refers to the day Germany occupied Denmark in 1940. A fateful day, the first in five years of German occupation that divided the Danish people: those who quietly submitted and those who dared take up arms against a superior force. Among those who dared were two resistance fighters known as "Flame and Citron" — the first named for his flaming red hair, the other for his job as a mechanic at the Citroën car factory. Madsen's film is the product of eight years of research and, as the director puts it, is "loosely based on real events". It wasn't easy, he says. There is no tradition for such free historical films in Denmark.
"Drama often deals with fear on a subconscious level. Drama lets us set up situations we fear ending up in ourselves. That way we deal with our fear."
"I think we're incredibly puritanical about our own history in this country," Madsen says. "It bugs me that demands for historical accuracy stand in the way of interpreting the truth in a way that, though it may not correspond absolutely to reality, is somehow more true. We lack an understanding that fiction can play an active role in shaping our identity. It's a shame, because it means we have no real sense of our history."
CONTENT DICTATES STYLE
Working on "Flame & Citron", Madsen debated whether to take the straight path and do docudrama-style rendition or let fiction have more of a say. "I chose the latter," he says. "Because to me, it's an outrage that fiction was never allowed to help narrate Danish history.
"Even so, I tried to keep a soft touch style-wise out of respect for the film's subject. It's important to break free of the period description when doing a film like "Flame & Citron". Essentially, I made the film the way I would have, had it been set in the present. I don’t keep long shots longer because it's a historical film. There are no horse-drawn wagons or cackling hens streaking through the frame. Much of the stylistic effort involved eliminating the distance to 1944, trying to leap across 60 years and make them disappear for the audience."
Madsen graduated from the National Film School of Denmark in 1993, in the same class as Per Fly and Thomas Vinterberg. He had his big breakthrough in 2001 with "Kira's Reason – A Love Story" and later had big hits adapting Jakob Ejersbo's bestselling novel "Angels in Fast Motion" (2005) and the love drama "Prague" (2006). Alongside his films, he directed episodes of the TV series "Taxi", "Unit One" and the historical drama series "The Spider"(2000). "Flame & Citron", co-written with Lars K. Andersen, is a story of two prominent resistance fighters, Bent Faurschou- Hviid and Jørgen Haagen Schmith, better known by their handles, Flame and Citron. "They were two of the most flamboyant characters in the resistance. There were very few like them," Madsen says. "Making them the leads in my film, I could lean on the mythology that surrounds them."
"Flame & Citron". Photo: Britta Krehl
THE STORY OF FLAME AND CITRON
"Flame, a friendly but phlegmatic character, was obsessed with firearms at an early age," Madsen says. "He grew up in Asserbo, north of Copenhagen, where his father ran a fancy hotel. When he was nine years old, he brought home a rifle and shot down the neighbour's weathervane. Flame had a complicated and hateful relationship with his father who was friendly to the Germans and very subservient to authority. When his father sent him to Germany to apprentice as a waiter, he developed a powerful hatred of fascism. Returning to Denmark, he joined the navy and learned how to shoot – he was marksman of the year in 1941. He was 19, just a kid, when he joined the resistance."
Citron, 10 years his senior, was a completely different type, more or less a dropout from his social set. His father died when Citron was little and his mother kept a home and four children running on her widow's pension, so they grew up shabby-genteel. "Citron always had problems with authority and was considered a loser, even by his own family," Madsen says. "Growing up, he was fascinated by the bohemian scene, and for years he worked as a stage manager at Zigøjnerhallen, a Jewish variety hall. He loved that life. That's where he met Bodil, who was a lot younger than he. She quickly became pregnant, but Citron had an incredibly hard time settling down."
"Though Citron was among the 'older' members of the resistance – he was 33 when he died – he operated on the street level," Madsen says. "Assassinations usually fell to younger members because it took a sense of recklessness that tends to have passed in someone with wife and kids and responsibilities."
"Both Flame and Citron were enormously well suited for war. They kept on fighting, even when everything and everybody around them told them not to," Madsen says.
Portraying the two "illegals", as the resistance fighters liked to call themselves, gave Madsen an opportunity to explore human psychology in crisis situations – a recurring theme in his films, whether set in Copenhagen or Prague, or dealing with drug abuse, war or divorce. He seems hard put to do a film about ordinary people in ordinary circumstances?
"You may have a point," he concedes with a laugh. "Well, ordinary people in ordinary situations shouldn't be in movies. There's way too much of that in our lives already. I'd rather do a different kind of story. Drama often deals with fear on a subconscious level. Drama lets us set up situations we fear ending up in ourselves. That way we deal with our fear."
THE ULTIMATE PRICE
What is the drama behind the story of the "illegals"? As Madsen reveals, he had two parallel agendas with his film. "First, I wanted to do a story about these two heroes," Madsen says, "try to make them modern heroes with cracks in their souls and doubts and insecurities, so we can mirror ourselves in them today. Second, I wanted to examine what war is and what it does to people. What was their moral dilemma? Was it right what they did? And at what price?"
As the film makes plain, freedom fighting came at a very high price to those involved. "To do what they did, they had to dismantle their humanity. That's why I think there would have been little hope for them once the war ended, had they survived. It was too late,” Madsen ventures. "You can think of my film as an investigation of what happens psychologically to someone who sacrifices himself in war. Still, I deliberately chose not to create conventional psychological portraits. My impression is that it’s not what it was like back then. Things weren't discussed. People kept the pressure bottled up inside until it killed them. Three years like that and they were done for," Madsen says.
"Flame & Citron". Photo: Alzbeta Jungrová
MYTHOLOGISING AND DEMYTHOLOGISING
Building on the myth of the two resistance fighters, while at the same time demythologising them, the Director Ole Christian Madsen Photo: Jan Buus film indirectly undermines the Danish self-image of the resistance as a cohesive whole. In reality, people were operating in a grey zone, where everything that was black and white when war broke out slowly became a fog that erased right and wrong, and no one was what they appeared to be.
Madsen is willing to run the risk of bruising the Danish self-image. Not because it's impossible to forgive that mistakes were made during the war, but because the nation has since neglected to talk about the mistakes that were made. "So many difficult questions crop up," Madsen says. "Why was it important to tell the story of Denmark as a land of resistance, even if it wasn’t? We collaborated with the Germans. There were no more than 1,000 active resistance fighters in the entire country. No one else dared. What is this collective misrepresentation we have created that still shapes us today?"
Back to April 9, the day of occupation. Obviously, Madsen was not alive back then, yet he has no problem evoking that day. "I have so many images of April 9," he says. "I grew up in a family of military officers and my grandfather was very close to the resistance. I used to sit at the table as a kid with these old resistance fighters and listen to their stories. They would talk about the shame. So, I feel I know April 9 and what it represents and the feelings it aroused, even if I wasn’t alive at the time".