Diplomacy (2014) / Drama-War
MPAA Rated: Not rated, but probably PG-13 for some violence and language
Running Time: 84 min.
Cast: Niels Arestrup, Andre Dussolier
Director: Volker Schlondorff
Screenplay: Volker Schlondorff, Cyril Gely (based on his play)
Review published November 22, 2014
Cyril Gely's play, adapted by Gely himself, along with the director, Volker Schlondorff (The Tin Drum, The Legend of Rita), provides the basis for this very talky two-hander that takes place over the course of one fateful night in Nazi-occupied Paris in August of 1944. With the Germans about to lose their hold of the city, German military governor General Dietrich von Choltitz (Arestrup, War Horse) is awaiting Hitler's orders to carry out the scorched-earth destruction of Paris before they leave the area. A diplomat from Sweden named Raoul Nordling (Dussolier, Amelie) gains entrance through a secret passageway into the general's hotel room headquarters in order to try to make an intellectual appeal that the destruction of such an amazing city would serve no real purpose except to ruin a source of immense inspiration and culture for future generations.
While the excellent performances by the two leads almost merit watching Diplomacy on their own, this is the kind of movie adaptation of a play that still feels like we're watching a play. It's a talky piece, and set mostly in one location, which greatly limits the cinematic appeal to the point where one wonders why bother to make it into a movie at all. The biggest reason for the quandary is that it doesn't seem to be a particularly good play in and of itself, and even with some great actors at the forefront, the obviousness of the writing and the stodginess of the situations don't exactly make for a scintillating night at the movies.
That Schlondorff is reticent to expand the story much beyond the hotel room is but one of the problems. Another is that much of the footage of the war is not made for the movie, shoehorning in actual war footage in order to try to give the semblance that there is indeed a great big war out there, even if we aren't going to see much of it firsthand. It's a bit chintzy in this approach, but given the budget limitations, perhaps it's all that could be done to try to being some outside reality into the situation.
There are allusions to chess within the course of the film, and that's basically what the film is -- a chess match among two intellectual and philosophical thinkers. Obviously, we know Paris was not destroyed, so we know Hitler will not be successful, which does limit the amount of intrigue to the film in terms of its main dramatic impetus. However, it does draw forth an intimate portrayal of how these little pockets of diplomacy can have a great effect of the actions during a grand-scale war, and emphasizes the need for conversation, even among adversaries, on what is right, just, and moral. On the downside, some viewers may have a hard time finding empathy for General von Choltitz, who had followed orders to exterminate many Jews, seemingly without much remorse.
While I would not consider Diplomacy a bad film, I do question whether it should be a film at all, so for that, I can't really give it very much of a recommendation, save for those who are big fans of these actors, or for those who are enamored of films about World War II. Its 'love letter to Paris' approach does tend to lay it on a bit thick, but given the commanding performances, it's a quality work that merits respect, even if the material leaves something to be desired as more than an important anecdotal footnote in a major chapter of world history.
©2014 Vince Leo