Nazi ne­go­ti­a­tions

Pasatiempo - - Moving Images -

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

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