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The Real vs. the Surreal

Much fuss is being made over the long awaited Quentin Tarantino film Inglorious Basterds, a tale of Allied assassins parachuted into Nazi-occupied Europe. Ironically, almost unmentioned, was the opening this weekend of a Danish film, Flame and Citron, starring, among others, the always fine Mads Mikkelson (Le Chiffre from Casino Royale). Both films cover similar territory, but Flame is about the real deal: resistance fighters in Nazi occupied Denmark, tasked with assassinating collaborators. Unlike Basterds, Flame is not mere stylish nerd violence porn, rather is a stark and subtly played nailbiter, with the doublecrosses, screwups and ambiguities that the real life characters experienced.

When Codenames Flame and Citron go rogue and assassinate a German national, the Germans retaliate in typical Nazi mode (as the Czechs found out in the wake of Reinhard Heydrick's killing), by slaughtering a random crowd of people on a streetcar. As Flame and Citron become folk heroes, their stature and growing sophistication threaten both the occupying regime and the government-in-exile in neutral Sweden, especially as American and Soviet forces begin to close in on the Nazi stranglehold. The relations and ulterior motives of friend and foe, family and victim, are complex and sometimes inscrutable.

So while Basterds wins accolades and good box office for its rollicking brutality, the true-to-life and deeper film passes almost unnoticed. We love violence but apparently only in cartoon form.

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