Saturday, October 11, 2014

Volker Schlöndorff's smooth-as-silk DIPLOMACY opens at NYC's Film Forum

A feast for folk who appreciate fine acting, writing and directing rolled into one smart art/mainstream movie, DIPLOMACY (Diplomatie) -- adapted by director Volker Schlöndorff and co-writer Cyril Gely (from the latter's stage play) -- gives us a fictionalized answer to why, toward the end of WWII in August of 1944, Paris wasn't burning. Adolf Hitler had planned the entire destruction of this glorious city if it appeared that Germany, whose troops still controlled Paris, was not after all going to win the war. (Back in 1966 French director René Clément gave us an all-star cast, both French and American, in a so-so documentary-style rendition of this famous non-event entitled Is Paris Burning?, but Schlöndorff's nifty, smaller-scale endeavor turns out to be the much better film.)

Schlöndorff's career as a long-active writer/director (he's pictured at left) goes back 54 years, during which he has made various kinds of movies (though not any rom-coms that I recall) -- from Young Torless through The Tin Drum to his marvelous documentary Billy Wilder Speaks -- most of them quite serious and more than a few of them damned good. Diplomacy is no exception, though to my mind it is one of his most simple, accessible and moving films -- one that is almost certain to appeal hugely to seniors and film buffs, as well as anyone who loves Paris and/or those more-or-less true tales that have come out of World War II.

While it is true that the Wehrmacht commander of Greater Paris, General Dietrich von Choltitz (above), and Swedish Consul General Raoul Nordling (below) did indeed meet, what we get here in a completely fictionalized account of what might have happened between them. That said, what Gely and Schlöndorff have come up with is delectable indeed.

From the manner in which Nordling arrives in von Choltitz's hotel suite (how this figures into French history, as well as the modern-day goings-on, is appropriately pointed and juicy) to the wonderful conversation that ensues between these two very smart and driven men keep the movie on point for its swift, 88-minute running time.

Both actors -- André Dussollier as the Consul and Niels Arestrup as the General -- could hardly be better (both performed the play on-stage, as well) and they light into the dialog with relish and aplomb, capturing the smallest nuances beautifully. Some of this dialog, as the Consul pleads with the General to think of what he will be destroying, is simply so glorious, so beautiful, that it will have you close to, even not in, tears for the love for the Paris that so many of us hold dear.

All this is intercut with scenes taking place at the site of what will be the destructive explosions to come as, first, the French resistance sabotages the plan, and then the Nazis rush to reset the charges and carry out the destruction. Of course, we know what happens (or does not), yet the suspense is surprisingly tight. Just hearing demolitions expert Jacques Lanvin (a very fine Jean Marc Roulot. shown center, above) explain what is going to happen and how Paris will be utterly destroyed is so convincing that we're shaken up simply by the verbal description.  Also grandly staged are the beginning scenes at the hotel in which the German General is housed, and what happens when word of its evacuation runs rampant.

Just about everything, in fact, works well in this exemplary movie that takes you from fear and loathing to sadness and joy, with stops for a few surprises along the way. This is classy filmmaking in all regards; Diplomacy is highly recommended. (That's Robert Stadlober, above, who plays a younger German Lieutenant.)

The movie, from Zeitgeist Films, opens this coming Wednesday, October 15, in New York City exclusively at Film Forum, an in the Los Angele area on November 7 at Laemmle's Royal, Playhouse 7 and Town Center 5. Over the weeks and months to come, the film will play cities across the country. To see all currently scheduled playdates, with cities and theaters, click here, and then scroll down to WHERE TO SEE DIPLOMACY, and then use the right-hand scroll bar to view all showings, organized by state.

Note: Volker Schlöndorff will appear in person 
at Film Forum at the 7 pm screenings on 
Wednesday and Thursday, October 15 and 16.

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