November 25, 2008

The Rape of Europa

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This review of “The Rape of Europa,” which was released in theaters last year but airs on many PBS stations on Monday, originally ran on Sept. 17, 2007.

The issues raised by "The Rape of Europa," a documentary about the Nazi pillaging of art and the Allied effort to return it, can't be conveniently consigned to the dustbin of history. This story is still playing out, contentiously and emotionally, as art is recovered and heirs sue for restitution. (The case of Klimt's portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, familiar to many New Yorkers, opens and closes the movie.)

"The Rape of Europa" covers endlessly interesting material: the central role art played for the Nazis; the arriviste connoisseurship of Hitler and Goering; the Germans' different treatment of cities like Krakow (spared for its Germanic art) and Warsaw (almost obliterated for its Slavic art and sensibility). It also raises endlessly interesting questions: Should soldiers' lives be risked to save historic sites and artwork? Can a culture survive if its art is wiped out?

The film, based on a book by Lynn H. Nicholas, crams in a lot, which means it can seem rushed and cursory. And some parts beg for fuller treatment. The Monuments Men — G.I.'s (mainly) whose mission was to recover and return art — could easily be the subject of their own documentary. They're heroes. And their work was vital to, in the words of one Florentine woman, "the victory of beauty over horror."




Source: Nytimes.com

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