“Flame and Citron” was one of Denmark’s most successful films last year and stars Thure Lindhardt and Mads Mikkelsen, actors which international audiences will recognise from “Angels and Demons” and “Casino Royale” respectively. This gritty World War II thriller revolving around the Danish undergrounds fight against Nazi rule, finally gets a US release and our Los Angeles correspondent Paul Fischer spoke to director Ole Christian Madsen.
Question: Why do you think it’s taken so long for the Danish aspect of Nazi Europe to be cinematically explored? Because it seems to me to be a really fascinating –
Madsen: Oh, that’s a good question. But I think the question goes way back, because – you know, right after the war, it was very important for – especially Denmark, to make a new face towards what happened during the war. They were, like, kind of washing the face. They thought they could show a clean face, to – especially America, the US who would give them the Marshall help, you know? And – so after the war, there was a kind of rewriting of history. A story that basically would say, Denmark was a resistant nation. A nation that resisted the German occupation. And we did the right thing. But that is basically – that was basically not what happened. Because Denmark was actually – the first 3 1/2 years of the occupation and the war, we were like Nazi allies, in a way, because we were practicing the Cove operation policy, which means that we let all of the institutions of Denmark to the Germans. They were using the police, the military, and the politicians. So, we had a situation that was very strange, because the Danish police were like – were catching Danish resistance guys. And Danish politicians, including the Prime Minister, were appealing to the people to tell on resistance guys, because they were a threat to the stability in the country. This strange, mixed up, crazy situation, created this – created this very strange event. So that – for people like Flame and Citron to act in. You know, because it was like – it was fucked up when they started acting. So in the end, you could say that we have, like – we had – after the war, they said we had, like, 50,000 resistance fighters in Denmark. That was basically a lie. I would say we had, like, 1500 real resistance fighters, really fighting back, and 800 of them were killed by the Gestapo. And so, I think that’s why it’s so difficult to deal with. There are so many lies – so much repressed truth, I would call it, instead of lies. So much repressed truth, and so much that they didn’t want to say.
Question: I mean, when you think of the history of Nazi-occupied Western Europe, you don’t think of Denmark as having played such an integral role in the dealings with the Gestapo, and the kinds of issues that you raise in this movie.
Madsen: Well, frankly, that’s what we wrote – we wrote a more clean story after the war. We had two things. We had the very tough part of the resistance, like that Flame and Citron were a part of. And then, we have the October of 1943, when the resistance helped the Jews to flee the country. These are the two events that we could use to clean our face.
Question: Now, the two central characters. Were they an amalgam of real characters? Were they actually – how much was based on historical – on the actual historical characters that existed in the Resistance movement?
Madsen: Basically, it’s true, you know. I tried not to add too much. I was trying to keep it as it were. I mean, we spent nine years doing this film. We started researching in the year 2000, so we didn’t have to invent anything. But, of course, I did like this – I did like – I left things out, you know, and I emphasized things, so that it’s my interpretation of what happened.
Question: How hard a film was this to cast? I mean, your two lead actors, Thure and Mads, are really fabulous in this. And it required actors who could be very – almost unemotional, yet committed to what they were doing. Was it difficult to find the right actors?
Madsen: Well, actually, no. Surely not. You know, I did two films with him before Flame & Citron, and he was cast, like, four years ago, just because – he was just waiting for the finance. And the same story goes for Mads Mikkelson. He was cast in it before he became more international. And Stine Stengade, who’s playing the Catholic Selmer character, the guy who’s betraying them – she was cast, like, eight years ago. So, it just followed the process. They were there. You know, they were very loyal to the project. Just waiting for us to get the finance. So, it wasn’t really difficult, because I didn’t feel that so many people could play these parts. The two guys were pretty much it, and I have – I think these are the two guys who can play the characters. So, luckily, they could. They were able to, and they were available. But actually, they were just waiting for the project. They really protected this project. So, that’s good.
Question: Why do you think the film struck such a chord with Danish audiences?
Madsen: Well, yeah. It was both successful, and did some controversy. You know, I feel personally – I feel the controversy a lot, because I was the one who was – you know, defending and talking, arguing, debating in the medias about the film. So, I know it’s a big success, but I don’t feel it. I feel like it’s a film that really put minds into thinking, and created a lot of conflict. You understand?
So, to me – yeah, I know it’s the biggest box office hit in Denmark for ten years, and I know it did well also in Germany and other countries. But anyway, I feel the – I’m so much into the discussion about – you know, what happened, that that’s what I feel.
Question: I mean, obviously, that controversy will be put aside when the film opens in the United States. What do you think American audiences will derive from seeing the film?
Madsen: I think the American audiences see it much more like a film. They have interest in discussing the resistance, and interest in discussing the Second World War, but they primarily see it as a film. And that’s a new experience.
Question: It’s very much a thriller. When you were writing this and structuring it, did you structure it as a thriller? D
Madsen: I wanted to make a film that’s structured, basically, around three kills. Three major kills. That’s what the structure of the film is. And no, I was looking for a form that could contain these very strange characters. Because they are very – they are larger than life, all of them, you know? And so I was looking at – I did a very strict, rigid film noir form before, taking place in 1948 in Copenhagen. And so I felt like the film noir thriller could contain these characters. You know, for instance, they are also very – the Ketty character, for instance, the girl who turns them in, she’s like – having an affair with Flame. Having an affair with Flame – the boss of the Flame. Having an affair with the other people of the resistance. Having an affair with the Gestapo chief as well. And she was strongly bisexual, and having an affair with a lot of women. You know, they are also very grand in their attitude. So, I needed this – I felt that the film noir thriller could contain them, in a form that would be believable. If I had made Flame & Citron as a very naturalistic documentary style, I wouldn’t think it would do justice to all the huge characters as they actually are. All the huge people, how human they are.
Question: In what state is the Danish film industry, and how tough is it to get films off the ground there?
Madsen: In a smaller scale, it’s doing the same as the American film industry is doing right now. It’s very difficult to get things that are not mainstream box office material off the ground. And like – it’s easy to make a superhero film in America, and Harry Potter. But it’s difficult – everything else is difficult, right? And so – it’s the same. At a smaller scale, but it’s the same. The risks they are taking are smaller. But we need a new movement, you know? We need a new Dogma movement or something. Something that can shake the ground of the distributors and the executives.
Question: Every time a foreign film is hugely successful in its own country, the Hollywood studios start to beckon.
Question: Have you had much discussion about making a film in the US?
Madsen: Yeah. Here in LA?
Madsen: Yeah. I have an agent that’s working for me. A lot of – yeah. I read a lot of scripts, and – yeah.
Question: Do you think that’s gonna happen? Do you want to make a film here?
Madsen: I don’t know. I don’t know yet. I haven’t read the right script. But I’m – I think it could happen if I wanted it, you know? But it’s a different world. I’m learning the rules. I’m not quite sure of the rules. I’m not quite sure of the behavior. And I’m not sure of how to do it, and what – I mean, it’s different. It’s really different. In Europe, you have this thing about, nothing goes without the director. You know, you wouldn’t develop a script without a director. I mean, you wouldn’t even – you wouldn’t even write a treatment without the director. Because you know, if you don’t have the right director, you don’t get any money at all. I mean, here it’s different. Here, it’s opposite. You know? It’s like, you have a script and a producer and a screenwriter, but you don’t have a director. And so you cast a director. That’s very different. I don’t know – so, maybe I can understand it someday.