Reviews

Flame & Citron (Flammen & Citronen)

Throughout this compelling film, the assassins want to believe they're doing righteous work: they're fighting Nazi occupation forces, after all.


Flame & Citron (Flammen & Citronen)

Director: Ole Christian Madsen
Cast: Thure Lindhardt, Mads Mikkelsen, Stine Stengade, Peter Mygind, Mille Lehfeldt, Christian Berkel
Rated: R
Studio: IFC Films
Year: 2008
US date: 2009-07-31 (Limited release)
UK date: 2009-03-06 (General release)
Website
Trailer

"I don’t shoot women," announces Bent (Thure Lindhardt). An assassin following orders from the Danish Resistance in 1944, he's baby-faced and red-haired, not at all the type you'd take for a stone-cold killer. Neither does he have a predictable reason for not "liquidating" women, as his team likes to term his work. It's not that he has moral qualms, exactly. It's that he tried once and failed, fooled by his target's tears and protestations. "She stood there staring right at me and I couldn’t pull the trigger," he recalls, "She cried and cried and cried." The following week, he sums up, she was back to her old tricks, informing on Danish citizens. Bent barely smiles. "I forgot that we're not killing people, we're killing Nazis."

Bent tries not to think too hard about what he does. He has that in common with his partner, Jørgen (Mads Mikkelsen), who spends the first hour or so of Flame & Citron (Flammen & Citronen) driving Bent from one mission to another and waiting in the car. Known among admirers and Resistance coworkers by their codenames -- Flame and Citron -- the team is becoming legendary, in spite of their efforts to be discreet. Throughout this compelling film, directed by Ole Christian Madsen and based on a true story, the two men believe they're doing righteous work: they're fighting Nazi occupation forces, after all. Still, they do wonder sometimes how they've come to this place in their lives and what they'll do when the war is over.

Until then, however, Flame and Citron see themselves as good soldiers, crusading against "brutal bastards" and scurrilous propagandists who deserve grisly ends. The killers' cause is just, and they're aided in secret by Danish police, vendors, and those few civilians "who are not afraid." As Flame puts it in his voice-over, the Nazis seemed to come out of the dark one terrible night in April 1944, as if "they had been waiting all day." Once visible, they raided homes, disrupted businesses, harassed hardworking citizens. In response, he and his colleagues are efficient and deliberate: Flame strides up the stairs to an apartment, knocks on the door, and, facing his designated target, checks the identification and then shoots, once to the head. He walks back out to the waiting car, looking calm. "If you stay calm," he says, "No one will suspect a thing. People will only be looking at the dead, at nothing else. They won't see you leaving."

In between assignments, Flame and Citron live in a basement room, where they play cards, smoke cigarettes or practice shooting. ("Most of my time is spent waiting," Flame explains, as he sits in a tub.) They receive their orders from Winther (Peter Mygind), a police solicitor they don't quite respect, but understand to be directed by British intelligence. As long as they're going after Nazis and known informers, the partners are at peace with what they do; once they are sent to kill Germans -- soldiers or civilians who are not explicitly affiliated with Hitler's party -- Flame and Citron protest... until Winther reminds them of their commitment: "You're Special Forces," he growls, "You'll do as you're told."

Still, they've crossed a threshold, where t seems possible to question orders, and so Flame and Citron experience a change -- in their understanding of the mission and their own relationship, at once horribly intimate and utterly abstract. A redefining moment occurs when they are instructed to "liquidate" a woman: Flame balks and Citron runs into his own problems, as she would be his first kill ever. The result -- a scene in which the shooter approaches the target standing at the sink in her own bathroom, then covers her face with his hand as he fires a bullet into her suddenly splattering skull -- is at once stunning and revealing. The work is turning increasingly personal, which means that the workers must think through their own reasons for doing it.

Described by one observer as "a soldier without a front," Flame believes himself to be dedicated both to his nation and against its obvious enemies. A potential victim teases him with questions about his hatred of the opposition: if this feeling is "caused by a personal neurosis," the would-be philosopher proposes, "The neurotic is intelligent and he has doubts. If he is betrayed, his hatred fades and doubt sets in. War does nothing for the neurotic."

Even as he's contemplating such moral questions, Flame confronts an emotional complication -- in the conventional form of a woman. Ketty (Stine Stengade) is plainly not who she claims to be, a blond-wigged courier married to a gay Swede (so she can travel more easily across borders). When Flame learns she has ties to Winther. He's bothered, but not enough to not fall in love with her. She may be a German agent or a double agent, she may be scheming against Flame and Citron or caught up in business that has her turned around.

The question of who's innocent -- and if it's possible to be innocent amid all the ethical turmoil -- is expanded in Citron's disintegrating relationship with his wife Bodil (Mille Hoffmeyer Lehfeldt). Though he tries at first to maintain contact with her -- mainly, pawing at her in the front seat of their car during furtive nighttime meetings -- she confesses eventually that she has "met someone," a man who offers her a chance at a more regular existence. Seeing that she's become afraid of him, Citron is horrified, as if seeing himself in her pale, anxious face.

Such difficult emotional interludes help to make Flame & Citron's taut action even more effective. Beautifully choreographed and filmed in deep shadows that cut the violence into shadowy, brutal fragments, Flame and Citron's jobs are at once thrilling and disconcerting. If their dilemmas come to resemble those laid out in Steven Spielberg's Munich (without the weird conflation of maternal bodies and motherlands) or Paul Verhoeven's Black Book (without the splendid surrealish excess), Flame and Citron are in the end grappling with themselves, with their own doubts and ideas about each other. The fact that they are posthumously honored officially by the U.S. -- both are awarded Medals of Freedom -- doesn’t so much seal their decidedly unofficial heroism as it does further complicate it.

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In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

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Features

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Nonetheless, there are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. There are singers tackling deep, universal matters of the heart and mind. Artists continuing to mess around with a genre that can sometimes seem fixed, but never really is. Musicians and singers have been experimenting within the genre forever, and continue to. As Charlie Worsham sings, "let's try something new / for old time's sake." - Dave Heaton

10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton



9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton



8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

The bro-country label never sat easy with Kip Moore. The man who gave us "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" has spent the last few years trying to distance himself from the beer and tailgate crowd. Mission accomplished on the outstanding Slowheart, an album stuffed with perfectly produced hooks packaged in smoldering, synthy Risky Business guitars and a rugged vocal rasp that sheds most of the drawl from his delivery. Moore sounds determined to help redefine contemporary country music with hard nods toward both classic rock history and contemporary pop flavors. With its swirling guitar textures, meticulously catchy songcraft, and Moore's career-best performances (see the spare album-closing "Guitar Man"), Slowheart raises the bar for every would-be bro out there. -- Steve Leftridge



7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge



6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


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White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

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