CAPSULE: We see a last ditch effort to save the city of Paris from the retreating Germans who have been ordered to blow up and burn the city they can no longer hold. A (neutral) Swedish diplomat has an unannounced early morning meeting with the German commander charged with destroying Paris. How the city was saved is a little less dramatic than the viewer might have expected, but the story is suspenseful and the interplay holds the viewer. Volker Schlöndorff (THE TIN DRUM) directs. Cyril Gely wrote the film based on his own stage play, which also starred André Dussollier and Niels Arestrup. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
It is the early morning of August 25, 1944. The Germans who have occupied Paris since June, 1940 are now losing the war, their stranglehold on France is lifting, and they are ready to give up and retreat from the City of Light. Adolf Hitler has given General Dietrich von Choltitz the order that Paris as it is is not to be retreated from. It must be consigned to fire and razed to the ground. This act would have no strategic value to the Germans, but Hitler had promised that Berlin would be as beautiful as Paris. If Berlin is in ruins, Paris must not fare any better.
At 4 AM Swedish diplomat Raoul Nordling (played by French André Dussollier) pays an uninvited visit on German von Choltitz (French Niels Arestrup) in an attempt to convince him to spare the city. Nordling expects von Choltitz to be a reasonable man of responsibility albeit on the wrong side of the war. Such illusions are quickly shattered. After the heavy bombing of German cities like Homburg the general has decided that the Parisians should get no mercy. The general is neither cultured nor compassionate. He will follow his orders with no concern for the cost to the enemy. A substantial number of the 1.5 million people in Paris will be killed. The argument goes to questioning becomes a debate of obedience vs. reason.
Nordling wants to convince von Choltitz that at some point obedience ceases to be a duty. This is the same issue discussed at the Nuremburg trials. I cannot verify that this dramatic last- minute effort ever took place and if it did, surely the content would be pure speculation. There are only rumors now that Nordling had a very strong influence on von Choltitz's decision to spare Paris.
Director Volker Schlöndorff has been scarce on the American screen the thirty-five years since he directed THE TIN DRUM. This film has none of the fantastic touches that that film had. In style this film is closer to that of Oliver Hirschbiegel's DOWNFALL. Dussollier and Arestrup repeat their roles on the stage with the play written by the screenwriter of this film Cyril Gely. The film all too readily shows its stage origins, only occasionally stepping outside the room that is the primary location. This story could easily be done as a stage play.
The worst problem of the film is that it promises to come down to issues of principles and ideals in conflict but does not. The content of any such discussion is purely a matter of speculation. The arguments for the Nazi point of view should have a little more merit and indeed from the real von Choltitz it probably would have. It would be valuable to see the issues more forcefully and better presented from von Choltitz's point of view. Though we are told repeatedly of the value of the city of Paris and all that would be lost, von Choltitz simply remains indifferent toward the city. What finally saves Paris--and, of course the viewer knows something must have--is not totally banal, but in the scale of the issues a minor matter. If this could have been a story of conflicting ideas and ideals, it could have been a much more powerful experience. In any case the film does maintain an atmosphere of suspense in spite of the fact that most of the audience will know better than Adolf Hitler did the answer to his question, "Is Paris burning?" Of course, that is true of many films about World War II.
I rate DIPLOMACY a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3129564/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/diplomatie/
Mark R. Leeper Copyright 2014 Mark R. Leeper