WWII, Sweden’s official neutrality was not always pretty. Yet, despite the
calculated concessions granted by their government, some Swedish diplomats became
heroes for their courage and compassion. For his efforts rescuing tens of
thousands of Jewish Hungarians, Raoul Wallenberg vanished to the world while in
the custody of the Red Army. However, Raoul Nordling was awarded the Croix de
Guerre for convincing Gen. Dietrich von Choltitz not to raze the city of Paris
as he withdrew his forces. Some historians question that narrative, but Cyril
Gely chose to print the legend in the stage play he and Volker Schlöndorff have
now adapted for the screen. A very French drama plays out between the Swedish
diplomat and the German officer in Schlöndorff’s Diplomacy (trailer
opens this Wednesday at Film Forum.
was one of the few old school Prussian officers not fatally embroiled in the Valkyrie
Plot against Hitler. Although he often had profound misgivings, he always
followed his orders, at least thus far. With the Allies rapidly approaching,
Choltitiz is supposed to blow up key points of infrastructure, leaving the city
in smoking wreckage. All the charges are set, but Swedish Consul Nordling has
furtively slipped into Choltitz’s converted headquarters in a luxury hotel,
using a secret passageway designed for Royal assignations. Before morning
breaks, Nordling will try to convince and cajole Choltitz to disregard his
orders, allowing Paris’s great cultural and architectural treasures to survive
Diplomacy is a one-set two-hander
(with a few subordinate offers and a shanghaied engineer walking through from
time to time), but the stakes could not be higher. It is a great chess match
premise, but even though the narrative is completely stacked in Nordling’s
favor it is Choltitz who emerges as the far more compelling dramatic figure.
played by the ever reliable André Dussollier, Nordling is the suave diplomat
arguing on the side of the angels. In contrast, Choltitz is a pricklier
individual. Although he remains an inspirational figure for his rank-and-file,
he is clearly troubled by the atrocities he duly participated in. Redemption
always makes good movie fodder, but there are pressing reasons for Choltitz to acquiesce
to madness dictated from above, which he will eventually reveal to Nordling.
plays the diplomat with instantly credible intelligence and sophistication.
Nonetheless, Niels Arestrup does all the heavy lifting and should earn the
majority of critical laurels for his work as Choltitz. While he is a rough bull
of a man, he conveys the multitude of internal conflicts roiling inside him.
Schlöndorff opens up the film up as best he can, but certain amount of
staginess is unavoidable—and perhaps even desirable for such a claustrophobic
one-on-one. He maintains a good deal of tension, treating both the concerns of
history and his main characters quite fairly. It is a good, solid film that
makes one wonder why his thematically related Calm at Sea has yet to land an American distributor. Recommended
for patrons of French cinema, Diplomacy opens
this Wednesday (10/15) at New York’s Film Forum.
Labels: French Cinema, Niels Arestrup, Volker Schlondorff, WWII Cinema