Volker Schlöndorff revisits World War II with Diplomacy, a love letter to Paris set during a night in 1944 when its very existence was at stake. Schlöndorff (The Tin Drum) spent a formative decade in Paris, and the German director’s affection is expressed through the demeanor of Paris-born Swedish Consul Raoul Nordling (André Dussollier), who attempts to convince Nazi commander General Dietrich von Choltitz (Niels Arestrup) not to destroy his beloved city.
Cyril Gély, who adapted his play with Schlöndorff, toyed with history to create this encounter. Nordling and von Choltitz did negotiate during the final days of the four-year German occupation, and each was credited with saving Paris from Hitler’s ordered destruction. But they never met for this conversation on the eve of liberation. What Gély lacks in historical fidelity he gains in dramatic interplay between men who held power very differently.
With blunt physicality and a keen intelligence, Arestrup’s von Choltitz doesn’t suffer fools gladly and displays a confident authority that never slides into smug superiority. Dussollier’s Nordling is more slippery, a kind of confidence man whose stated neutrality lets him pursue a complex agenda. Arestrup and Dussollier originated these roles on stage, but Schlöndorff (who directed the Hoffman/Malkovich Death of a Salesman) gives it the immediacy of a life-and-death encounter.
Throughout Diplomacy, Nordling asserts that Paris should be saved, but the truth is that it could be saved (unlike many others). Paris represented the rare victory of rationality in a war that defied logic on every front.