Inglorious Basterds and Flame & Citron
Nazis. Ally insurgents behind enemy lines. Assassination attempts.
Storylines with these elements tend to accelerate the heartbeat of WW2 film fans. Two current films weave these plotlines into two different and satisfying films.
The splashier of the two films is Inglorious Basterds. Tarantino’s revenge fantasy is set ‘once upon a time in Nazi occupied France.’ After a bumpy opening at the Cannes Film Festival and after some likely judicious editing, the 152 minute film now delivers an impressive romp. Brad Pitt leads the titular posse of Jewish guerilla fighters, pulled from various corners of the USA and dropped behind enemy lines to kill some Nazis.
Pitt’s drawl does not quite match his character’s West Virginian upbringing, but he uses his twang to deliver myriad clever lines. A bit less blunt is his scalping knife, with which he leaves his mark.
But it is Christoph Waltz who blazes the brightest in the film. Waltz appears from the film’s opening moments until the credits roll. His erudite crisp demeanor as Nazi officer Hans Landa is the film’s highlight. Moving fluidly from German to French to English to Italian, Waltz plays his role with aplomb.
When I spoke with Waltz (between sets at the recent Reggae Festival at the Hollywood Bowl), he was genuinely pleased and humble about his role. Largely unknown in the USA, this veteran London-based Austrian actor will soon be the toast of the cognoscenti.
Tarantino had been working on Inglorious Basterds for over a decade, but once he finally completed the script in July 2008 the film sped into production.
With a unique international casting strategy, the crew assembled and shot the film essentially in sequence. Tarantino’s violence is clever and abrupt, as always. Many of the musical cues are incongruous yet oddly effective, another Tarantino trait. Several femmes fatale counterbalance the packed testosterone of the cast. Diane Kruger is a lovely German actress who beguiles the Nazis while abetting the Inglorious Basterds. Mélanie Laurent plays Shosanna Dreyfus, a French resistance fighter who conveniently runs a cinema in Paris. When Goebbels decides to premiere his latest propaganda film in Shosanna’s venue, Tarantino is truly in his element. His plot has been coming to a slow boil, and it finally distills as all the characters assemble for the premiere. Will the library of volatile nitrate films be explosive? Will Hitler attend the premiere? Will Pitt’s crew be discovered? And what about Col. Landa?
Drawn from the historically accurate story of two Danish resistance fighters, Ole Christian Madsen’s Flame & Citron presents a more nuanced and thought-provoking experience. Although both films show their violent acts up close, the tight perspective of the Danish storyline is more unnerving. The eponymous assassins are directed by Allied superiors to eliminate Danish sympathizers. The cool Flame (Thure Lindhardt) dispatches his orders effectively and without seeming emotion. His driver and accomplice Citron (Mads Mikkelsen), however, is jittery and sweaty for most of their assignments. What starts out with clear delineation between good and evil soon devolves into a murkier stew. Faced with conflicting emotions and a fuzzier understanding of their duties, Flame and Citron are soon caught in the fog of war.
The look of the film is superb (it is one of the most expensive Danish films ever produced). Set in 1944 Copenhagen, the sets, costumes and ambiance are superb. While striving for more than a traditional WW2 thriller, “Flame & Citron” ambitiously weaves chilling elements to challenge the convenient ‘us versus them’ structure of war films.
Whereas Inglorious Basterds contains a bevy of cleverly humorous moments as it builds to its climax, Flame & Citron is a calculated and somber treatment of an intriguingly difficult topic.
Both films deliver in unexpected ways.