Magazine article Screen International

Diplomacy

Magazine article Screen International

Diplomacy

Article excerpt

Dir: Volker Schlondorff. France-Germany. 2014. 85mins

A perfect showcase for the formidable talents of Niels Arestrup and Andre Dussolier, Volker Schlondorff's adaptation of the hit Cyril Gely play, though it didn't need the stagey atmosphere given the two actors are by far the most mesmerising attraction in this film.

In both actors, the man behind the role is always present and in evidence, everything that goes unsaid is conveyed in their conduct, and silences are as eloquent as any piece of dialogue.

Reprising the roles they had already performed on stage not that long ago, Arestrup plays Nazi General von Choltitz, who had been ordered to destroy Paris rather than hand it over to the Allies, and Dussolier is Swedish Consul Raoul Nordling who tries to dissuade him at the last moment from blowing up the city he adores.

Though Von Choltitz and Nordling were acquainted and the Swedish Consul had successfully negotiated with the Commander of the German Occupation Forces the exchange of German political prisoners for members of the French Resistance, the meeting portrayed in the play, and subsequently in the film, never did actually take place.

The fictitious encounter imagined by Gely takes place on the fateful night of August 24/25, 1944, as the last German soldiers are about to leave city, the main bridges and all the historical monuments are already mined and one word would have been enough to demolish them all. For Gely, this was just the right moment to confront the two characters, representing diametrically opposed conceptions of life.

On the one hand, the strict German military tradition that would never conceive disobeying the orders of one's superiors, on the other hand, an open-minded, liberal, humanistic, cultivated diplomat from a neutral country who had been born and raised in Paris, and was willing to try every strategy in the book, fair of foul, to save it from destruction.

In the sophisticated duel of minds between the two of them, von Choltitz starts by holding the upper hand due to his authority as Supreme Commander of the German Forces. However, Nordling's cards include not only the General's concern for the fate of his family if he dares ignore Hitler's specific instruction to burn the city he called "the whore", but also the guilt the German carries on his shoulders for ordering the massacre of Jews on the Russian front and the destruction of Rotterdam in the West, all of it almost naturally justified in his eyes, because, like a good soldier, he was just "obeying orders". …

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