Imagine a world in which that great City of Light, Paris, was razed to the ground. It nearly happened on August 25, 1944: While the French resistance fought its way past the Nazi stronghold, an SS general named Dietrich von Choltitz was mulling over an order from Adolf Hitler to detonate a series of explosives that would kill millions while destroying landmarks like the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame. Volker Schlöndorff’s well-acted though fairly bland two-hander fictionalizes the events of that day, imagining a tense extended dialogue between Von Choltitz (Niels Arestrup) and a Swedish diplomat, Raoul Nordling (André Dussolier), trying to talk him out of Hitler's plan. In reality, the duo had a number of exchanges over different days, and surely not with quite the ticking-time-bomb tautness that Schlöndorff is after here (and which he rarely attains).
Though the film occasionally moves into the war-torn streets, most of the action takes place in Von Choltitz’s hotel suite, where Nordling enters through a secret doorway and proceeds to do verbal battle with the stalwart general. Diplomacy’s origins as a play (written by Cyril Gely and starring the same actors) are always evident. Despite Schlöndorff’s attempts to give the movie some pop through widescreen lensing and noirish lighting, it’s a visually staid affair—very “filmed theater.” Fortunately, both Arestrup and Dussolier are captivating presences. They’ve clearly lived with these roles and know how to milk the two men’s moral discourse for in-the-moment electricity that, sadly, never accumulates into anything truly epochal.
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Cast and crew