Paris, Dietrich von Cholitz and Raoul Nordling
Volker Schlöndorff brings us a historical drama that shows us the relationship between two important men; Dietrich von Cholitz, the German military governor of occupied Paris, and Swedish consul-general Raoul Nordling. As the Allies marched into Paris in the summer of 1944, Hitler ordered that the city should not be allowed to fall into the hands of the enemy and if it does it should be reduced to rubble. Hitler designated General Dietrich von Cholitz, Wehrmacht commander of Greater Paris to carry this out. Von Cholitz already had mines planted on the Eiffel Tower, in the Louvre and Notre-Dame and on the bridges over the Seine. Nothing should be left as a reminder of the city’s former glory.
What was not expected was that on August 25, Swedish Consul General Raoul Nordling entered German headquarters via an underground secret tunnel and at this point began a very tense cat and mouse game while Nordling tried to persuade Cholitz to leave Paris and his plan alone. The film is based on a 2011 stage play and it is an elaborate drama of politics. Cholitz stands behind his duty to obey unquestioningly all military orders; Nordling does everything he can to appeal to reason and humanity to stop the destruction of Paris.
It is from this that the expression “Is Paris Burning” comes. Hilter asked von Cholitz that very question. The film is a fictionalized confrontation between the two men that lasted all night and was to decide the future of Paris. It is set at the Hotel Meurice on Rue de Rivoli. The two men are in an extended battle of wits that leaves us almost breathless until the very end. The odds constantly shift and just when we think that one side has won, the other side comes up with something else.
André Dussollier is the Swedish consul general and Niels Arustrup is von Cholitz. They engage in a captivating battle of words about the importance of preserving a country’s cultural heritage and we are taken through twists and turns as we learn that the question of saving Paris for both men is a personal rather than a moral issue. The real beauty of the film is in the tension that is created by the two main characters. Nordling, a slightly greasy man who likes to wheel and deal has nothing to trade with von Cholitz. All we can do is to appeal to the general’s vanity and his own genuine love of the city. We become aware of director Schlöndorff’s fascination with moral choices and the war.
The two men are the last representatives of a dying breed and they draw a verbal web of spells between each other, attempting to twist their decisions. Their conversation becomes a battle of perfect manners and gentlemanly chivalry as the fate of Paris hangs on diplomacy. They wait for the right word at the right time and we truly see the art of diplomacy and the manipulation of language.
The film opens in New York on Wednesday, October 15, 2014 and in Los Angeles on Friday, November 7.