A historical drama that depicts the relationship between Dietrich von Choltitz, the German military governor of occupied Paris, and Swedish consul-general Raoul Nordling.
“Diplomacy” (original title “Diplomatie”) is a true story that for 99% of the time, takes place in one location: a large room at the Hotel Meurice which overlooks Paris and the Eiffel Tower in particular. As World War II is coming to an end, Germany is in the throws of occupying Paris with direct orders from Hitler to destroy every famous landmark throughout the city; the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the Place de la Concorde and Notre Dame. This will serve absolutely no strategic purpose in the war other than to satisfy Hitler’s narcissistic need to do whatever he wants. These orders are placed squarely on the shoulders of General Dietrich von Choltitz (Niels Arestrup), a German career military officer who was held responsible for the extermination of thousands of Russian Jews after the siege and capture of Sevastopol but to some, was hailed as the “savior of Paris.”
He was the last commander of Nazi-occupied Paris in 1944 who disobeyed orders to level the city before surrendering it to the Free French and “Diplomacy” tells this captivating story. As the movie begins, Dietrich has already ordered his men to set explosives throughout Paris at the aforementioned famous landmarks and in particular, the Eiffel Tower, which is set to have torpedoes strapped to the base of each of its legs. As the men are finalizing their assignment, Raoul Nordling (André Dussollier), the Swedish consulate general, pays him a visit with one purpose in mind, to try and stall him until the Allies reach the city. And that is the movie, in a nutshell. What makes it work though, is the interaction between the two men, Dietrich, the soldier and Raoul, the diplomat. Each are exceptional in their chosen fields but trying to understand each other and their motivations, is really what this movie is all about.
The film was adapted from the stage-play ‘Diplomatie’ by Cyril Gely and this explains the film’s one central location and the overall ‘theatrical’ feel of the story. André Dussollier and Niels Arestrup are both fascinating to watch. I felt like I was observing an exciting tennis match and with every serve from one opponent, the other responded equally as well and at times, even surpassed the other. Director Volker Schlöndorff handles the dramatic elements very delicately. With Raoul trying desperately to talk Dietrich out of killing hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians, Dietrich informs him that if he doesn’t follow Hitler’s orders, his family will be tortured and executed. When he asks Raoul what he would do in his situation, he returns a blank stare and simply states “I don’t know.”
The movie doesn’t shy away from the fact that Dietrich is already accountable for the deaths of thousands of Jews but instead of killing several thousand more, Raoul takes advantage of and manipulates the situation and turns it around on him by using his family, explaining that if he were to surrender peacefully, he could guarantee their safety into Switzerland. Sounds pretty straightforward, especially for an expert mediator but when you’re talking to a devoted and patriotic soldier who would die for his country, that tends to throw a spanner into the works. “Diplomacy” is riveting and full of outstanding performances and very highly recommended.
For more info about James visit his website at www.irishfilmcritic.com