The Rape of Europa
2007, NR, 117 min. Directed by Richard Berge, Bonni Cohen, Nicole Newnham. Narrated by Joan Allen.
REVIEWED By Raoul Hernandez, Fri., Dec. 14, 2007
“All of this accumulated beauty had been stolen by the most murderous thieves that ever existed on the surface of the earth. How they could retain the nicety of the appreciation of great art and be exterminating millions of people in nearby concentration camps – I couldn’t understand it then, and I can’t understand it today.” So summarizes one World War II “monuments man” at the end of The Rape of Europa, one of a small group of U.S. soldiers charged with finding and returning the recovered fine art looted by the Nazis during Europe’s six-year holocaust that left 50 million people dead. When the Allies rerouted the personal war spoils – plus other priceless stashes of stolen art – of Adolf Hitler and Hermann Goering in 1945, the two sorting centers in Munich and Wiesbaden were recalled by another monuments-man as the greatest museums produced by civilization. Others include Paris’ Louvre and the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, parallel crucibles of culture that, like their countries, suffered disparate fates during the war. Vienna, Cracow, Florence: continental art capitals pillaged by the German army (“art collecting became a required pastime for the Nazi party elite”). The documentary blitzkrieg with which The Rape of Europa traces Hitler’s failed art-school aspirations to a salt mine in Austria with 6,500 paintings he hoped to hang in his bequest to greater mankind leaves viewers with the aforementioned veteran’s incomprehension about genocidal Rembrandt collectors. The film's tone and pacing are strictly A&E, while Marco d’Ambrosio’s musical score (with assists from Tchaikovsky and Polish composer Henryk Górecki) defines manipulation, though none neutralizes the sobering images and interviews, both historical and new. Endings happy (Gustav Klimt’s Adele Bloch-Bauer) and grave (the Monte Cassino monastery) carry with them historical figures such as frontline art academic Deane Keller, now interred at the U.S.-bombed Camposanto sanctuary in Pisa, Italy, thanks to his efforts to first preserve then restore the historic landmark. National identity resides in frescos, marble, and oils as within boundaries. Narrator Joan Allen: “Like refugees from battle, most of Europe’s art found its way home after the war. And like every civilian or solider who lived and died, every work of art had a story to tell. Never before had art been moved, hidden, and plundered on such a vast scale. Thousands of artworks remain unaccounted for.” Wanted: Raphael’s Portrait of a Young Man.