Directed by Volker Schlöndorff
It’s the odd film where two men talking in a hotel room is more exciting than tanks and resistance members on the streets below, but that’s exactly the case in Volker Schlöndorff’s new Diplomacy. World War II is drawing to a close. As the Allies near Paris, Swedish Consul Raoul Nordling (André Dussollier) attempts to convince Nazi General von Choltitz (Niels Arestrup) not to ignite the charges that would leave the City of Light in ruins.
The large majority of the film takes place in said hotel room, and Schlöndorff utilizes the small space expertly, blocking Nordling and Choltitz in a dizzying array of interactions, thereby removing any feeling of staginess. The explosion is to go off at dawn, and cinematographer Michel Amathieu slowly brings the balcony’s natural light from an opaque black to a soft blue, one of the only real indications of temporal change in this time-sensitive narrative.
Strewn throughout the film is thrilling black and white archival footage, which, when juxtaposed with the relative stuffiness of the hotel room is rendered all the more powerful. Perhaps to make Cyril Gely’s stageplay more cinematic there are many other, real-time attempts to move the action outside of the room. Choltitz is frequently on the phone with Hegger (Thomas Arnold), across the city and awaiting detonation confirmation. Jacques Lanvin (Jean-Marc Roulot), the man in charge of planning the blast, makes his way across Paris when the phone lines fail.
In another film these scenes would hasten the pace and thicken the tension, but here, partially because Dussollier and Arestrup (both reprising their roles from the stage) are so good, partially because the fictionalized exterior footage proves no match for the black and white real stuff, and partially because the argument is more interesting than a gunshot, these moments falter.
Quietly prolific, Schlöndorff may be far removed from his run of great films from 1975 – 1979 – The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum, Coup de grâce, and The Tin Drum – but Diplomacy is a very nice two-hander, suspenseful and human.