Wednesday, October 8, 2014


By D.E.Levine

Whether or not the events in this film are all true remain to be seen, however, they make for a wonderful intriguing and tense tale of two men and their respective backers fighting over the city of Paris, France.

In 1944, as the Allied forces gained ground and came closer to Paris, the Nazi command made the decision that if they couldn't hold on to the city they would destroy it so no one else would have it.  Hitler ordered all the bridges, monuments and historic buildings blown up in order to destroy centuries of art, architecture and civilization and kill thousands of people.

Charged with the actual task was the German military governor of Paris, General Dietrich von Choltitz (Niels Arestrup).  It's historical knowledge that von Choltitz disobeyed the Fuhrer's orders but the reasons he did so are the basis of the story told in this film.

In a cat and mouse confrontation, the general and the Swedish ambassador to France, Raoul Nordling (Andre Dusollier), argue the point of obeying orders and destroying the city versus disobeying orders and saving the city they both love.

There is no evidence that the conversations in the film are accurate but Nordling uses all his diplomatic skills to make the case for sparing the city, and the confrontation and conversations are both morally and psychologically compelling.

We know that von Choltitz was physically ill with asthma, and exhausted and demoralized.  A veteran of both World Wars, he now has to face the fact that the cause and country he has faithfully served is about to be defeated.

The ambassador is smooth and tells marvelously compelling stories about bygone Parisian intrigues while insisting that he and his government are neutral and do not side with either the Nazis or the Allies.  We can tell, however, that the ambassador has been in touch with the Resistance and is helping them.

The viewer must draw his/her own conclusion about why Nordling was successful in dissuading von Chiltitz from destroying the city.  The important thing is that Nordling's efforts worked and unlike so many other cities that were destroyed during the war, Paris remained, for the most part, intact.  So many years later we can still visit and enjoy the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and the Garnier Opera.