Expanded from Cyril Gely's stage play, this film remains finely focussed on a history-changing dialogue between two men on the day Paris changed hands from the Nazis to the Allies. The stakes are so high that the film can't help but be riveting to watch, even if the details of the real-life encounter have of course been fleshed out fictionally. Although some of the drama feels a bit underwhelming, the powerful performances make it remarkably involving.
In August 1944 Hitler levelled Warsaw in a fit of rage, then turns his sights to Paris, which is on the verge being reclaimed by the Allied forces. So he orders his commander there, General von Choltitz (Niels Arestrup), to flatten the city and kill as many people as possible in retaliation for Allied attacks on Berlin. Choltitz dutifully lays explosive charges on the bridges and plots the destruction of the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Louvre, Arc de Triomphe and Hitler's favourite landmark, the Opera. Then French-born Swedish diplomat Raoul Nordling (Andre Dussollier) turns up to offer an impassioned plea for the city. Choltitz says he's obeying orders, but Nordling begs him to consider the consequences for both mankind and his own future.
Obviously, Paris survived the war, and knowing the outcome of these intense negotiations eliminates much of the suspense, so the film's entertainment value is in the quality of the argument, which plays out in real time as these men manoeuvre to get the upper hand in the discussion. Again, this isn't much of a contest, as Nordling always has the moral authority, but Choltitz is caught in a nasty situation, wanting to do his duty even though he knows it's the wrong thing to do. Unfolding in real time, there are constant wrinkles along the way as we wait for the argument that sways everything. So it's a little disappointing that Gely and veteran director-cowriter Volker Schlondorff rely instead on some twists in the tale to spur things forward.
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In such an unjust society, what's a pretty girl to do? If you're the hapless Julie (Julia Jentsch), you scrape by as a waitress in an upscale restaurant, struggling to pay your rent, chafing all the while under the glare of your snide superiors. Julie's lot only gets worse when she's booted from her apartment and, soon after, from her job. Luckily, her boyfriend, Peter (Stipe Erceg) offers to put her up in his hovel -- one he already shares with Jan (Daniel Brühl), his close friend and political confidante.
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