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'Diplomacy':Paris on the eve of destruction

A Swedish diplomat tries to persuade an occupying German General not to destroy Paris in the WWII drama.

IN "DIPLOMACY," a Swedish diplomat tries to persuade a German general not to obey Hitler's order to destroy the city before its capture by advancing allies.

Spoiler alert: Paris does not blow up.

The challenge for director Volker Schlondorff, then, is how to find verge-of-disaster drama in a (loosely) fact-based story whose outcome is known to all (and that's been told on film already in "Is Paris Burning?").

He starts with good material - a popular and award-winning French play that takes what in fact was a long and arduous multi-party negotiation and cuts it down to a single night among two wily men.

Both white-haired and European, but different in every other way.

German Gen. Dietrich von Choltitz (Niels Arestrup, who originated the role on stage) fought in two world wars and rose to his position by becoming a man of rigid order and absolute devotion to duty.

He's come to see the Nazi leadership as demented and greedy (Himmler's thugs arrive on the eve of capitulation to raid the Louvre for art) but it's never entered his mind to question Hitler's order to destroy the city with fire and floods.

Enter Raoul Nordling (Andre Dussollier, also a veteran of the stage), the cultured, adopted Parisian who must find a way to nurture doubt and disobedience in a German who values certitude and hierarchy above all.

At least those are the apparent parameters of debate. The drama is made interesting and more substantial as hidden facts about the German's situation are revealed, and his soldier's perspective honored.

Gauzy pleas from Nordling to save the City of Light hold no appeal to Choltitz, who has seen cities burn, along with their inhabitants. His opinion of human potential is by now so degraded that sentimental arguments to preserve what's purported to be the best of humanity hold little sway.

So what tips the scales?

We'll leave that to "Diplomancy," but it's been said that all is fair in love and war, and against mankind's appalling behavior in World War II, Nordling could be forgiven for wondering: What's one more lie?