by Volker Schlöndorff
(with context by Gary Meyer)
With Diplomacy , director Volker Schlöndorff (The Tin Drum , The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum , Young Torless , Death of a Salesman ) has once again made a movie that pulls the viewer into a dramatic story based on history, making it relevant. The new film opens Friday, October 24 at the Opera Plaza Cinemas in San Francisco, Shattuck in Berkeley and Smith Rafael Film Center in San Rafael, with wider US release in the coming weeks.
There are many great reviews you can read. EatDrinkFilms asked Volker if he would share something exclusively with our readers, and he came through.
A little context first.
After a bomb attempt on his life in July of 1944, Hitler had little faith in his military commanders. He asked that Maj. Gen. Dietrich von Choltitz be brought to him to handle a monumental task. Choltitz’s family heritage of Prussian militarism meant he did not have an independent spirit and would follow the Führer’s order without question. And he had a fearsome reputation as a ruthless destroyer of cities. His meeting with Hitler left Choltitz uncertain about the outcome of the war but ready to carry out an another scorched-earth assignment—to destroy Paris, the most beautiful city in the world.
Hitler issued orders for “all available reinforcements” to be sent to France, remarking, “Why should we care if Paris is destroyed? The Allies, at this very moment, are destroying cities all over Germany with their bombs.” Explosives were strategically placed in electric and water facilities, under the Seine’s historic bridges, in the Palais du Luxembourg with its priceless literary and art treasures, the French Foreign Office, the Chamber of Deputies, the telephone exchanges, the railroad stations, the aircraft plant and every major factory. A tunnel beneath the city was filled with U-boat torpedoes that, if ignited, would produce a titanic explosion and tremendous devastation.
What happened on the morning of August 25 is at the heart of Diplomacy , and though we know the outcome, the cat-and-mouse game that the movie portrays is a fascinating look at history, with two of the year’s best performances, by André Dussollier as Consul Raoul Nordling and Niels Arestrup as General Dietrich von Choltitz.
Choltitz surrendered that day. Schlöndorff sent us this unpublished document the Allies prepared after his arrest (we provide an easier-to-read typed copy of the text below):
IF THE INFORMATION CONTAINED IN THIS REPORT IS REQUIRED FOR FURTHER DISTRIBUTION, IT SHOULD BE PARAPHRASED SO THAT NO MENTION IS MADE OF THE PRISONERS NAMES, NOR OF THE METHODS BY WHICH THE INFORMATION HAS BEEN OBTAINED.
Preliminary report on information obtained from CS/211 – General der Infanterie Dietrich von CHOLTITZ, Commandant of PARIS, captured PARIS 25 Aug 44.
This report contains information obtained from the above PW by direct interrogation and in conversation with:
CS/158 — Oberst Wilhelm LUDWIG (AOK 7) Captd LE MANS 8 Aug 44
CS/212 — Oberst Hans JAY (Fold Komandanttur 757, PARIS West) Captd PARIS 25 Aug 44
CS/213 — Oberst Rolf Müller-Römer (Nachrichten Komandantur PARIS) Captd PARIS 25 Aug 44
CS/214 — Oberst Karl Unger (Chef des Stabs Komandantur GROSS PARIS) Captd PARIS 25 Aug 44 and with a Junior American Army Officer.
Note: The German text of S.R. conversations reproduced verbatim is given in the Appendix.
PW is a cinema-type German officer, fat, coarse, bemonocled and inflated with a tremendous sense of his own importance. This latter quality causes him to talk freely and at times garrulously. He is at present very much concerned with appearing in the most favourable light possible in the eyes of his captors and adopts the attitude that he had foreseen the outcome of the war because of his insight into historical necessities.
TREATMENT OF THE JEWS
General von CHOLTITZ admitted his active participation in anti-Jewish measures to General von THOMA in the following conversation: (German text Appendix (o))
CHOLTITZ: The worst order I ever carried out—which however I carried out with great consistency—was the liquidation of the Jews. I carried out this order down to the very last detail.
THOMA: The whole thing is done on HITLER’s orders. EHERBACH said yesterday again: “HITLER has no idea that the people have been hanged.” Ha! Ha! Ha! It’s a good thing that you can now produce such unimpeachable proofs.
Later, Choltitz mentioned the figure of 30,000 and even 36,000 Jews being executed in Crimea/Sebastopol.
The Nazi General was sent to Trent Prison in London, and then spent time in Camp Clinton, Mississippi. He was released from Allied captivity in 1947, and died in 1966.
Volker Schlöndorff, (born March 31, 1939, Wiesbaden, Germany), German film director and screenwriter who was a leading member of the postwar cinema movement in West Germany.
Schlöndorff studied filmmaking in Paris, serving as an assistant to directors Louis Malle, Alain Resnais, and Jean-Pierre Melville. After directing several projects for French television in the early 1960s, he returned to West Germany and joined the burgeoning Junger Deutscher (Young German) film movement. His first feature, Young Törless (1966) earned him instant recognition. This study of a sensitive boy in a brutal German military academy exhibited the cool, straightforward directorial style that would come to distinguish Schlöndorff from his more idiosyncratic contemporaries Werner Herzog and Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Schlöndorff cowrote the screenplay for Young Törless and he contributed to the scripts for a number of his movies.
Schlöndorff formed his own film company, the first production of which Baal (1970), starring Fassbinder, was an adaptation of the Bertolt Brecht play. The following year, Schlöndorff married an actress who had appeared in the film, Margarethe von Trotta, with whom he collaborated professionally through the mid-1970s and who later directed films of her own. Notable among their collaborative works was The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum (1973), adapted from the Heinrich Böll novel.
Working independently of his wife from the late 1970s, Schlöndorff achieved critical and commercial success in Europe and the United States, winning the Palme d’Or at the Cannes film festival and an Academy Award for best foreign film, with The Tin Drum (1979), his adaptation of the Günter Grass novel. The film’s episodic structure and expressionistic style marked a departure from his earlier work. Schlöndorff’s other work included the film Circle of Deceit (1981), made on location in war-torn Beirut; a television production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman (1985), starring Dustin Hoffman; and well-received adaptations of novels by Marcel Proust (Swann in Love, 1984) and Margaret Atwood (The Handmaid’s Tale, 1990).
Two of Schlöndorff’s later films invoke memories of Nazi-dominated Germany: The Ogre (1996), about a Nazi prisoner of war who is commissioned to train young boys for future government service, and The Ninth Day(2004), the chilling tale of a priest’s time in a Nazi concentration camp. Schlöndorff’s subsequent films included Strajk (2006; Strike), about one of the founders of Poland’s Solidarity trade union, and the romantic drama Return to Montauk (2017).
(Biography adapted from Encyclopedia Britannica)
More detailed bio and filmography on Wikipedia.
Visit Schlöndorff’s website.
For much more about Diplomacy , visit the official website.
A terrific new interview with Volker Schlöndorff by Peter Becker of the Criterion Collection is one of the best I have read and is very much worth your time.
Many of Schlöndorff’s films are available on DVD. Criterion Collection has wonderful editions of four titles.
You can find more on Schlöndorff at Amazon.
Possibly the best book about Hitler’s threat to Paris is Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins’ Is Paris Burning?
Gary Meyer co-founded Landmark Theatres in 1975, the first national arthouse chain in the U.S. focused on creative marketing strategies to build loyal audiences for non-Hollywood fare. After selling Landmark, he consulted on projects for Sundance Cinemas and the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Rose Cinemas, created the Dockers Classically Independent Film Festival and Tube Film Festival for the X Games, and resurrected the 1926 Balboa Theatre in San Francisco. Meyer joined the Telluride Film Festival in 1998, becoming a Festival Co-Director in 2007. Now a senior curator at Telluride, Meyer also founded the online magazine, EatDrinkFilms.com in 2014, with the EatDrinkFilms Festival to tour nationally in 2015.