A slice of scintillating history from Volker Schlöndorff, starring Niels Arestrup
Director Volker Schlöndorff created a masterpiece with his 1979 adaptation of Günter Grass's novel The Tin Drum; having made a definitive anti-war film, it's surprising to see him return to the subject some 35 years later. However Diplomacy quickly reveals why Cyril Gely's play would attract his interest.
Essentially a two-hander, and almost entirely set in one small hotel room, Diplomacy takes place over 24 hours as the German army prepare to leave Paris in 1944. German general Dietrich von Choltitz (Niels Arestrup) is charged with implementing a scorched earth policy: everything of cultural importance, from the Eiffel Tower to the Mona Lisa, must be destroyed, the Seine will be blocked and Paris will quite literally be swept away by flooding. Swedish diplomat Raoul Nordling (André Dussollier) arrives on a last ditch mission to persuade von Choltitz to disobey Hitler's orders.
Nordling's first appearance, 15 minutes into the film and via a secret staircase that allows him to pop unexpectedly into von Choltitz's company, is a striking introduction that has a greatly disconcerting effect on his adversary; the anecdote in which Nordling explains how the staircase was used to allow Napoleon's clandestine affairs sets a classy, literary tone that is admirably maintained for the remainder of the duration. Arestrup and Dussollier revel in their complex characters, and while some historical details are fudged, the drama is always compelling.
Diplomacy's wordy exchanges could easily work as a radio play, but the veteran director deftly embellishes the story with brief excursions into chaotic streets and rooftops crowded with explosives experts. Diplomacy is a tiny film that hits a big target. Audiences unaware of why Paris did not burn will find Schlöndorff 's slice of history an eye-opening experience.
Limited release from Fri 14 Nov.