As the Allies approach Paris in August 1944, General von Choltitz (Niels Arestrup) serves as the temporary German governor of city and remains in his office, a hotel, as he plans to blow up the city according to Hitler's orders. Raoul Nordling (André Dussollier) interrupts those plans when he arrives at Choltitz's hotel room via a secret chamber to try to persuade him not to blow up Paris. The fate of Paris rests in the hands of these two men as they argue throughout the night.
Based on the play by co-writer Cyril Gely, Diplomacy builds tension not through action like most films do nowadays, but rather through words and the power of your imagination as a result of those words. In a way, the arguments that Choltitz and Nordling have about the Hitler's plans are essentially battles of the mind and heart. Kudos to casting director Okinawa Valérie Guerard for choosing just the right actors to carry the burden of the film. Niels Arestrup and André Dussollier captivate your attention from start to finish with their note-perfect performances. They're mesmerizing to watch, but what's even more compelling is the way their relationship evolves throughout the film and how there's more to Choltitz than meets the eye. Initially you might see him as a villain before the layers of his humanity begin to rise to the surface. He's a complex human being and hard to fit into a box which makes him all the more interesting as a character. This is the kind of film with a plot that might seem simple and easy to describe, but at its core there's a wealth of complexity that gradually unravels.
It's a testament to Volker Schlöndorff's talents as a director that Diplomacy never becomes too stuffy given its origins as a play. Yes, there's a lot of dialogue (this a true "talkie" in every sense of the word!), but none of it feels stilted or awkward or exhausting for that matter. Schlöndorff includes some exterior shots which help to dissipate any of potential stuffiness. Most significantly, though, he keeps the running time down to merely 85 minutes which shows great discipline on his part and that of editor Virginie Bruant. If this were 3 hours long, it would have eventually become exhausting and overstayed its welcome.