Diplomacy, historical drama, not rated, The Screen, 3 chiles Diplomacy is about an immoral man facing a moral dilemma. Based on real people and events, it imagines the closed-door conversation held between Nazi general Dietrich von Choltitz and Swedish consul Raoul Nordling during the final hours of Germany’s occupation of Paris in August, 1944, when the city was “a huge time bomb,” as one of von Choltitz’s lieutenants says in the film. The Nazi-appointed governor of Paris, von Choltitz has strict orders directly from Hitler to blow up the city’s key bridges, stations, and monuments — with particular emphasis on the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, and the Opera. Given that we know the less-explosive end result, the tension that results from German director Volker Schlöndorff’s skillful yet incompletely realized drama runs surprisingly high.
A filmmaker could be forgiven for dramatizing these historic moments through scenes of stealthy French Resistance sabotage or explosive aerial strikes (as René Clément did in the 1966 film Is Paris Burning?). Schlöndorff, best known for his adaptation of Günter Grass’ The Tin Drum, instead focuses on verbal confrontation, here adapting a play by Cyril Gely that is also called Diplomacy. The exchange begins when Nordling (André Dussollier) materializes by way of a hidden staircase in the private rooms of von Choltitz (Niels Arestrup). The diplomat’s sudden appearance after the general has dispatched his subordinates, his soft-spoken rationality, and kind nature (at one point he provides the aged general with medical assistance) all contribute to a sense of Nordling being the angel on von Choltitz’s shoulder. He uses all the persuasive tools of his profession to forestall the general, challenging the legality of the decision as an act of war, the validity of absolute loyalty, and the justness of the eye-for-an-eye philosophy applied to cities. Finally, he appeals to the historic legacy the general will leave behind, and only then begins to gain some traction.
Whether von Choltitz was actually the savior of Paris, as he presents himself to be in his memoir (also titled Is Paris Burning?), remains hotly contested. Diplomacy accepts and furthers this portrayal without probing much deeper, though what was actually said between the two men is unknown, as are all of von Choltitz’s reasons for disobeying his directive at the last minute. Early in the film, the general says, “In Sevastopol, I had to carry out the hardest order of my career. The liquidation of the Jewish population. I obeyed that order and accepted the consequences.” The order to destroy Paris, unlike the one to commit genocide, crossed a line for von Choltitz, but rather than exploring the authenticity behind the general’s change of heart, the film more simplistically celebrates it.
— Loren Bienvenu