The hardest thing about reviewing Diplomacy is that it’s not really a movie. It is based on a play, which is obvious from the get-go, but it never quite makes its case for existing as a movie. This isn’t to say it’s bad, because it isn’t. It’s actually quite good, but I imagine it’s much better on stage.
Diplomacy takes place towards the end of Germany’s occupation of France in World War II. As the Allied forces approach, General von Choltitz, head of the German forces, is preparing to burn Paris to the ground, partially to stifle the Allies’ strategic advantage, and partially because Hitler is a spiteful jerk. A real Nazi, that one. Raoul Nordling, an outspoken activist (for lack of a better term) has taken it upon himself to talk the General out of completing his mission, thusly preserving Paris.
That’s the movie, essentially. These two men take turns presenting their cases as to why Paris should and shouldn’t be destroyed. As these two passionate men argue, their motivations are laid bare, and it becomes tough to applaud or condemn either man. This is a smart script that manages to wring tension out of a very simple idea. One guy says, “don’t do it!,” The other says, “I’ll do it!” Repeat for 85 minutes. There are points where it feels repetitive, but I imagine that on stage, where the set is part of the performance, it would seem less so. On the screen it’s mostly closeups of aging men arguing. Not quite so dynamic.
If you dig “talking movies” and want to try something that’s not in the American “Sorkin/Mamet” smooth-talk variety, Diplomacy is worth checking out. It’s a great story, one that I hope is closer to fact than fiction, performed by two talented foreign actors (Niels Arestrup I recognized from the AMAZING A Prophet, Andre Dussollier I didn’t recognize, but I felt the same paternal glow of Michael Caine).
Perhaps the best justification for Diplomacy to exist as a film is that I’d probably never have heard of it any other way, and I’m glad I did.
Diplomacy opens today at the Ritz Bourse.