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War is hell

Paris is exploding?

Remember when old white men decided the fate of the world?
Remember when old white men decided the fate of the world?

Diplomacy employs a brave dramatic premise: as the Allies approach Nazi-occupied Paris, the German military governor of the city prepares to follow his orders and blow up the City of Lights. Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, all of it — plus the bridges. The Seine will flood the streets; hundreds of thousands will die. War is hell.

But the French resistance manages to sabotage the operation, and while the bad guys are fixing their bombs, the governor gets a surprise visit from the Swedish consul-general. (It’s all the more surprising because he appears through a secret door in the hotel suite, already privy to all sorts of secrets.) Despite his job, Paris is his hometown, and he’d rather not see it destroyed. So he sets out on the tricky mission of convincing an old soldier to break rank.

Movie

Diplomacy <em>(Diplomatie)</em> **

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A brave dramatic premise: as the Allies approach Nazi-occupied Paris, the German military governor of the city prepares to follow his orders and blow up the City of Lights. But before he does, the Swedish consul-general pays him a surprise visit to plead for mercy. You probably know the ultimate outcome, but director Volker Schlondorff (working from Cyril Gely's play) knows his way around a (mostly) single set, and he is blessed with two sensitive actors in Niels Arestrup as the governor and Andre Dusollier as the consul. Over the course of their wee-hours conversation, the bullish Arestrup sags and softens, while the gentlemanly Dusollier gradually reveals the cunning behind his tender appeals. Still, it's a pity Schlondorff didn't make more of his cinematic opportunities outside the hotel. A little supporting personality could have made the proceedings feel less like a smartly staged character study and more like a wartime drama.

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The premise is brave because you probably know the ultimate outcome. And once destination is determined, all that remains is the journey. Happily, director Volker Schlöndorff (working from Cyril Gély’s play) knows his way around a (mostly) single set, and he is blessed with two sensitive actors in Niels Arestrup as the governor and André Dussollier as the consul. Over the course of their wee-hours conversation, the bullish (but never brutish) Arestrup sags and softens, while the gentlemanly Dussollier gradually reveals the cunning behind all his tender appeals.

I only wish Schlöndorff had made more of his cinematic opportunities outside the hotel. The film is only 84 minutes long; I would have liked to spend more time with the French saboteurs who bought the consul precious time, and with the German soldiers diligently preparing to destroy Hitler’s favorite city. It’s not that we don’t meet them at all, it’s just that they register as functionaries, fulfilling their obligations to the story. A little supporting personality could have made the proceedings feel less like a smartly staged character study and more like a wartime drama. And a little viscerality might have helped me forget my French history for a moment.

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Remember when old white men decided the fate of the world?
Remember when old white men decided the fate of the world?

Diplomacy employs a brave dramatic premise: as the Allies approach Nazi-occupied Paris, the German military governor of the city prepares to follow his orders and blow up the City of Lights. Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, all of it — plus the bridges. The Seine will flood the streets; hundreds of thousands will die. War is hell.

But the French resistance manages to sabotage the operation, and while the bad guys are fixing their bombs, the governor gets a surprise visit from the Swedish consul-general. (It’s all the more surprising because he appears through a secret door in the hotel suite, already privy to all sorts of secrets.) Despite his job, Paris is his hometown, and he’d rather not see it destroyed. So he sets out on the tricky mission of convincing an old soldier to break rank.

Movie

Diplomacy <em>(Diplomatie)</em> **

thumbnail

A brave dramatic premise: as the Allies approach Nazi-occupied Paris, the German military governor of the city prepares to follow his orders and blow up the City of Lights. But before he does, the Swedish consul-general pays him a surprise visit to plead for mercy. You probably know the ultimate outcome, but director Volker Schlondorff (working from Cyril Gely's play) knows his way around a (mostly) single set, and he is blessed with two sensitive actors in Niels Arestrup as the governor and Andre Dusollier as the consul. Over the course of their wee-hours conversation, the bullish Arestrup sags and softens, while the gentlemanly Dusollier gradually reveals the cunning behind his tender appeals. Still, it's a pity Schlondorff didn't make more of his cinematic opportunities outside the hotel. A little supporting personality could have made the proceedings feel less like a smartly staged character study and more like a wartime drama.

Find showtimes

The premise is brave because you probably know the ultimate outcome. And once destination is determined, all that remains is the journey. Happily, director Volker Schlöndorff (working from Cyril Gély’s play) knows his way around a (mostly) single set, and he is blessed with two sensitive actors in Niels Arestrup as the governor and André Dussollier as the consul. Over the course of their wee-hours conversation, the bullish (but never brutish) Arestrup sags and softens, while the gentlemanly Dussollier gradually reveals the cunning behind all his tender appeals.

I only wish Schlöndorff had made more of his cinematic opportunities outside the hotel. The film is only 84 minutes long; I would have liked to spend more time with the French saboteurs who bought the consul precious time, and with the German soldiers diligently preparing to destroy Hitler’s favorite city. It’s not that we don’t meet them at all, it’s just that they register as functionaries, fulfilling their obligations to the story. A little supporting personality could have made the proceedings feel less like a smartly staged character study and more like a wartime drama. And a little viscerality might have helped me forget my French history for a moment.

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