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There's an old joke - how many Frenchmen does it take to defend Paris? Answer: No one knows. It's never happened.
That actually comes up in this film, "Diplomatie," from 2014, based on a play. It's basically a two-person movie about the conversation Swedish consulate Raoul Nordling (André Dussollier) has with Général von Choltitz (Niels Arestrup).
Germany has basically lost the war; the Allies are en route to Germany, and Hitler has decided to make Paris scorched earth, killing millions and razing the city to rubble. There was no strategic reason to do this. He was just feeling especially spiteful that day and figuring, why leave the Allies with this jewel.
Nordling, a Paris resident, comes to ask von Choltitz to spare Paris. von Choltitz has never defied an order, no matter how he felt about it, and he is very dismissive of Nordling. He points out that there's practically nothing left of Hamburg - did those civilians not matter?
He tells Nordling that the Parisians gave the Nazis Paris "with their legs open - like whores. We can do what we want with it." They go back and forth on this, and von Choltitz later admits that Hitler has gone off the rails. But there's nothing he can do - his family will pay the price if he doesn't do as he's told.
This is an excellent film with superb acting by both men. The most chilling scene takes place in the beginning, when von Choltitz and soldiers go over the plan to destroy Paris. It's absolutely shocking. They go through every landmark, every famous street, discussing how it will be taken down, how the city will be flooded when they break through the river barriers. It's awful.
I knew right away that Neils Arestup was not German - I could understand every word he said. When real Germans speak, I can't. He does a masterful job, so aggressive and cold in the beginning, and then gradually weakening. André Dussollier, with his quiet performance, is excellent in his persuasiveness.
I believe the mayor of Paris and Nordling both visited von Choltitz.
Well, we all know what happened. Here in the U.S., I think sometimes World War II has been glamorized a bit as it was not fought on our soil. And for many of our fathers, it was their first time away from home and their normal lives and, in reminiscing, for an 18-year-old who maybe went over at the end of the war, it was an adventure and the beginning of lifelong friendships. Sadly the outcome was not the same for all.
World War II was filthy, it wasn't the propaganda movies trying to keep our spirits up. It was a horrible war that killed many people through bombing, extermination, and starvation. For much of Europe, the aftermath wasn't that much better.
"Diplomate" is just a microcosm of one man's efforts to stop the carnage. Definitely worth seeing.
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