Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Diplomacy

As the Allies were beating back Jerry on the European front, the Nutzis hatched a plan to delay the inevitable invasion of Germany by blowing up, super-villain style, Paris when the Allies tried to retake it.

And it really was a supervillain thing: The strategic value of destroying Paris (and killing over a million people) was actually pretty minimal, and the motivation seems to have been sheer Hitlerian insane rage, at least as portrayed here.

The actual history is rather murky. We know that some sort of plan was in the works, from all the explosives found wired to monuments and structures all over the city. And we know that General Choltitz didn't blow up Paris because, hey, it's still there. But why this mass murderer changed his mind is a mystery.

In Cyril Gely's play "Diplomatie", he boils the situation down into a single long night when the Swedish consul Nordlinger sneaks into Choltitz' hotel-based office (via a secret passage designed for a French noble's dalliances) to convince him not to push the plunger.

I knew about 15 minutes in that this almost had to have been based on a play, confined as it was to two guys in one room, talking, and this is the sort of thing I really enjoy when it's done well, so I have a bias here. But The Boy also liked it.

It works because there's an arc here: Nordlinger is clearly motivated, and willing to push whatever buttons he can find on Choltitz, while Choltitz appears to have no buttons to be pressed. But, as they do their little dance, you get tensions, resolution, and even character development, all based around a high stakes situation—really, all you need for good drama.

Some nice twists and turns, too. All in under 90 minutes!

Perennially evil dude Niels Arestrup (You Will Be My Son, War Horse) plays the evil German dude well, even as he evolves into a maybe slightly less evil German dude. Andre Dussollier (A Very Long Engagement, Tell No One) plays the Swedish consul/voice of reason with a deceptive sentimentality, under which lies determination, desperation, a hardness that suggests a level of threat. You can sense that he'd kill Choltitz if doing so wouldn't seal Paris' fate.

Volker Schlondorff (The Tin Drum, The Handmaid's Tale) directs and keeps it from feeling confined by its theatrical roots.

Worth checking out.

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