Reviews

Flame and Citron

The film is a compelling, urgent portrait of violent, paranoid times, and questions what it is to be a hero.


Flame and Citron

Director: Ole Christian Madsen
Cast: Mads Mikkelsen, Thure Lindhardt, Stine Stengade, Peter Mygind
Distributor: MPI Media Group
Studio: Nimbus Rights II APS
Release Date: 2010-02-23

Flame and Citron, as the name suggests, is both passionate and piquant; a tale of firebrand resistance and bitter betrayal in a climate of heady suspicion and conflict. Based on real events and set in occupied Denmark towards the end of World War II, it brings to life an iconic Danish resistance duo, codenamed Flammen (The Flame) and Citronen (The Lemon). Their story is captured with the gusto, panache and sometimes ramshackle efficiency of its protagonists.

The film opens with newsreel footage of the 1940 invasion of Denmark, accompanied by the words:

Do you remember when they arrived? Do you remember April 9th? I think you do. Everybody does. All of a sudden they were everywhere. The Gestapo, The Wehrmacht, Abwehr, SS. All the German corps. German Nazis. Danish Nazis. They came out of the dark. They had been awaiting the day. Did you go outside and watch? What were you thinking?

The narrator is speaking to a generation and global audience who, for the most part, will not recall these events first hand but, through his direct address, he forges the close association of a shared history. He asks us as spectators to share in the indignation and see the treachery and violation as if through eyes of the time; immediately immersing us in this fractured, duplicitous world.

Occupied Denmark during World War II was described by the Nazis in propaganda materials as “a model protectorate”, i.e., they claimed the invasion was an act of protection to prevent the Allies from seizing control, and it was intended as a paradigm of minimal interference. In this way Denmark was, initially at least, permitted to function relatively normally. The government remained largely intact and reluctantly promoted cooperation, whilst the police and judicial system stayed in Danish hands and King Christian X retained his position as Danish Head of State.

However, as the war progressed, relations grew increasingly strained and in August 1943 -- after demonstrable public dissent and the government’s refusal of a new raft of impositions -- the German authorities dissolved the government and began to subject the Danes to the undiluted brutality of Nazi reign, including the removal of Jews.

Flame and Citron is set during the hostile, tail-end of the occupation -- in 1944, the year in which Copenhagen resisted and the whole city went on general strike -- but contains flashbacks to earlier in the occupation. Its heroic couplet are Bent Faurschou-Hviid (Thure Lindhardt) known as Flammen, because of his flame red hair and Jørgen Haagen Schmith (Mads Mikkelsen) a.k.a. Citronnen, who had worked in a Citroen plant where he sabotaged German cars and trucks.

The duo are members of the Holger Danske group, one of the largest Danish resistance groups of the period. The pair carry-out executions of informants but a conversation with an intended target, who may not be the villain he seems, Gilbert (Hanns Zischler), leads Flammen to question their orders and the integrity of their work. Further complicating matters, and a source of potential jeopardy, is Flammen’s pursuit of the mysterious Ketty Selmer (Stine Stengade), a woman with an ever expanding list of connections.

The film is a compelling, urgent portrait of violent, paranoid times, and questions what it is to be a hero. It is exuberantly confident, economical film making, with a running time in excess of two hours but which, given its stripped down pacey structure, feels a fraction of that. Director Ole Christian Madsen favours short scenes, fast editing and shorthand characterisations. However, for all its entertainment value, this technique gives a feeling that these are mere snapshots of the Danish resistance.

Madsen is a slick filmmaker and proves himself amply gifted in scene-setting, but there are issues and characters here which demand further development and overall the picture lacks the requisite dramatic heft. In addition, a more minor quibble is that, although for the most part it is bold and imaginatively executed, on occasion stylistic flourishes don’t come off: there are a number of fast zooms which seem off-kilter and jarring for example, and war film clichés aren’t entirely side-stepped. On the other hand, the performances and design of the film, from the wonderfully iconic costumes to the recreation of the time period frequently impress.

Ultimately, Madsen has delivered a film which is unashamedly thrilling and accessible; a York (or Cliffs) Notes version of the Danish resistance if you like. Although he succeeds in capturing an impression of the story and period, like his renegade heroes he is loathe to linger, and thus the finer details elude him.

Given the picture’s factual origins and the fascinating history of the period it is an unforgivable omission not to have included at the very least a commentary and feature, giving us a context for the duo’s heroics. Instead, rather pathetically, we just get a trailer.

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Music

Mike Stern: Trip

Photo: Sandrine Lee (Concord Music Group)

Mike Stern has fallen. Trip shows that he can get back up just fine.


Mike Stern

Trip

Label: Heads Up
US Release Date: 2017-09-08
UK Release Date: 2017-09-08
Label website
Artist website
Amazon
iTunes

Guitarist Mike Stern suffered from a big owie last year. It seems that, while trying to cross a street in Manhattan, he tripped and fell, breaking both of his shoulders in the process. He underwent surgery and reports that "I still have to use glue so I can hold a guitar pick." While you're busy trying to figure out just how a jazz-fusion guitarist needs glue to hold a pick, keep in mind Stern is an embodiment of a working musician, and his chosen genre of expertise is famous for its pay-to-play, sink-or-swim business model. Such a setback can really eat into one's career. Gigs need to be canceled, which sometimes leads to venues blacklisting you in the future. And in a world where most people listen to their music via streaming services, gigging may be your only reliable source of income. Thankfully, Mike Stern, who was 63 at the time of his injury, has made a full recovery and is back to work with an impressive array of professional help. His new album is ironically named Trip. Apart from the title,

Trip makes it sound like nothing ever happened to Stern. At all. In the same way that John McLaughlin and his current Fourth Dimension band sound like a bunch of barnstormers who haven't hit 40 yet, the powerful performance of Stern and his colleagues coupled with the high quality of the material belie both age and medical condition. Now I'm aware that our very own Steven Spoerl did not care for the writing on Mike Stern's 2012 All Over the Place, but there's no way I can sling the same criticism at Trip. The opening title track alone is enough to nullify that. Stern plays the melody in unison with saxophonist Bob Franceschini, and it's all over the place. The song slinks into a B section where the chords shift from a minor vi to a major IV, and again, Stern and Franceschini drive an even meaner melody down the scale with plenty of sharply punctuated intervals. This guy fell, broke his shoulders, and now needs glue to hold a pick? Are we all sure he wasn't just replaced with Steve Austin?

Another number that, to me, offsets any concerns about the able-bodiness or strength of the material is a spunky one named "Watchacallit". This time, the B section brims with even more tension with Franceschini flying high and bassist Tom Kennedy doing little divebombs at the start of each bar. When it's all put together, it's truly a moment for you to crank your listening device of choice (in the past, we would say "stereo" right about here). But that's just two songs. There's a total of 11, spanning an hour and six minutes. Stern doesn't use every bar of every number to punch us in the gut. He still goes for the smooth bop ("Emelia"), the funky intersection of Miles Davis and Funkadelic ("Screws"), and the soothing ballad ("I Believe in You" and "Gone").

No review of Trip would be complete without mentioning the musical pedigree of Mike Stern's friends. When it comes to drummers, he managed to net Dennis Chambers, Lenny White, and Will Calhoun (yes, that Will Calhoun). Those names alone give you a money-back guarantee that the rhythm section will never, ever falter. But just to be sure, Stern summons Victor Wooten to play bass. Top shelf names like Randy Brecker and Bill Evans, in addition to Franceschini, provide Trip with soulful wind. Pianist Jim Beard pulls double duty as the session pianist. Normally, I'd wrap this up by saying that Mike Stern is under the process of pulling himself up by his bootstraps and dusting himself off after a major boo-boo. But after listening to

Trip over and over again, I'm convinced that he's beyond that. The straps are up, and the dust has cleared. He's back, playing and composing just as well as he ever did. Better than he did before the accident, perhaps? You can be the judge of that meaningless hairsplitting exercise because Trip is worth the journey no matter where your expectations may lie.

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