Before dawn in Paris on August 25, 1944, a German aristocrat, General Dietrich von Choltitz (Niels Arestrup), prepares to execute an order from Hitler (enraged by the destruction of Berlin), to replace beauty with rubble in the City of Light, to greet the advancing Allied forces with total devastation. Von Choltitz’s men have set explosive on 33 bridges (which “will cause the Seine to burst its banks”) and on Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Opera, the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, Les Invalides, the stations–all the glorious landmarks, represented by chess pieces on von Choltitz’s map.
Like a phantom, a Swedish diplomat, Consul Raoul Nordling (André Dussollier), appears in the elegant blue and gold suite at the grand Hotel Meurice, where the Nazis are headquartered. Soft-spoken and eloquent, well-dressed in a black three-piece suit, and masquerading behind the neutrality of his country, Nordling begins a conversation, challenging von Choltitz, suffering from war-fatique and asthma, to defy the “absurd order” or be held responsible by history.
The tense (fictionalized) battle in Academy Award-winning director Volker Schlöndorff’s new film, “Diplomacy,” between the diplomat and the general, thrillingly fought by two of the world’s most extraordinary actors, deals with much more than the fate of Paris (which of course is obvious), delving into issues of war (how acceptable are civilian casualties, act of war or war crime, whether combatants are terrorists or patriots), which 70 years later are tragically still relevant.
“Diplomacy” will open on Wednesday, October 15 at Film Forum for a two-week run, with Volker Schlöndorff in person at the 7:00 pm show on October 15 and October 16. A national release will follow.