Review of The Rape of Europa written and directed by Nicole Newham, Richard Berge, Bonnie Cohen
Rating *** 1/2
This documentary is based on a book by the same name by author Lynn Nicholas. The film and book tell the story of how the Germans, and later the Russians, stole precious artwork, sculptures, and other artifacts throughout Europe for their own personal use. It's a fascinating story.
I've heard bits and pieces of this story over the years. But this film examines it in detail using a wealth of archival footage and interviews.
One of the claims by the filmmakers, and I assume the author of the book, is that at least some of the military advances during the war were motivated by the desire of Hitler and others to steal artwork. Besides Hitler, the other person who stole art for his own benefit was the head of the German air force. This guy, whose name I can not spell, probably aided in the German's demise. While his air force was involved in critical battles, he was out viewing art galleries in France and then taking what he wanted for his private collection. Even Hitler, who was an artist himself, was obsessed with creating the largest art gallery in the world. Forget the fact that the art was stolen and that much of it came from people who were later killed in concentration camps.
Despite the interesting story, the film drags some. I think it has to do with the dry delivery of the narrator Joan Allen. She comes across as an actor reading a script instead of someone telling a story. I also think that the most dramatic part of the story, the search and discovery of the missing art, was glossed over. To me, that is the part of the story that was the most compelling. But it is presented here as an afterthought.
I didn't know anything about the "monument" soldiers whose main job was to find and identify important artwork, galleries, and monuments before and after a bombing and invasion. Our military leaders apparently didn't have the same concern, considering how they allowed the looting of Iraq's museum in the immediate days after the invasion.
Lastly, it's a shame that the Russians have decided to not return much of their stolen artwork to the rightful owners. They need to do the right thing. It might go a long way to repairing their tarnished image.