Today is May 8th—the end of WWII in Europe (69th anniversary)—and a public holiday in France. France is the only country in the world that marks VE Day with a public holiday (on the 8th at least; Russia does it on the 9th). It’s ridiculous that France should have this holiday, as the country had already been entirely liberated by VE Day. Also, with May Day—la Fête du travail—this means that there are two public holidays on the same day two weeks running, which creates problems for people like me, who have to reschedule classes. President Giscard d’Estaing abolished the May 8th holiday but his successor, François Mitterrand, restored it illico when he took office. Hopefully some day it will be abolished again, replaced with some other, more significant date marking WWII, like De Gaulle’s Appeal of June 18th, or the liberation of Paris on August 25th.
À propos, this very good film by German director Volker Schlöndorff, which takes place entirely in Paris on August 24-25, 1944, came out a couple of months ago. It’s adapted from a 2011 play of the same title, set almost entirely in the Hotel Meurice on the Rue de Rivoli—the HQ of the German high command in the city—, of Raoul Nordling, the Swedish consul general in Paris, striving through the night to persuade the German military governor, General Dietrich von Choltitz, to disobey Hitler’s orders to destroy the city the next day (and everything was in place to do so, which would have indeed accomplished Hitler’s evil goal and killed at least 100,000 Parisians in the process). The performances of André Dussollier (Nordling) and Niels Arestrup (von Cholitz)—who were also the actors in the play—are tops. A tour de force. As it happens, the film distorts in some important respects the history of the what transpired between the two men in regard to the fate of Paris, mais peu importe. It’s fictionalized history, making for an engaging film. So thumbs up. Hollywood press reviews (tops) are here and here, French reviews (also tops) here, trailer is here.
One WWII-themed film seen of late that does not get the thumbs up is George Clooney’s ‘The Monuments Men’. I would normally run out to see a film on a subject such as this one’s but hesitated for weeks after it opened, as I had read that it played fast and loose with the historical record of a not insignificant episode in the final year of the war—the Allied effort to recover the vast trove of artwork stolen by the Nazis—, playing up the role of the Americans, but not compensating for distorting the historical record—no doubt for base commercial reasons, to appeal to American audiences—by making a riveting and/or engaging film. I have a friend—US based—who happens to be one of the world’s leading authorities on the film’s subject, so I invited him to write a guest review for AWAV. He replied to my offer saying that he hadn’t yet seen it, as he feared the worst. He wasn’t way off base in his premonitions. The cast may be all-star but the performances are uninspired and by-the-numbers. The film drags in stretches, indeed throughout. It’s a clunky, forgettable Hollywood grand spectacle, et avec toutes les ficelles. It doesn’t work at all. George Clooney’s heart is in the right place but he has yet to prove himself as a director. Reviews were not too good on either side of the Atlantic. So unless one really, truly wants to see this one, skip it.
UPDATE: Ian Buruma has a review of ‘Diplomacy’ in the NYR Blog (October 15th).