The Rape of Europa

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Menemsha Films

NEW YORK -- A fascinating and relatively unexplored topic is examined in "The Rape of Europa," detailing the Nazis' systematic pillaging of art works throughout the continent.

Based on the book by Lynn Nicholas, and written, produced and directed by Richard Berge, Bonni Cohen and Nicole Newnham, the film should secure a rightful honored place among the myriad documentaries about World War II. It is playing at New York's Paris and Angelika theaters.

The film explores the subject from many provocative angles, including the psychological one of whether Hitler's rapacious appetite for masterworks was fueled by his own frustrated artistic ambitions. More interestingly, the moral question is raised as to whether it was worth risking human lives to protect the artworks, as the U.S. military's "Monuments Men," several of whom are interviewed here, were assigned to do.

The straightforward docu, narrated in elegant and unemotional tones by actress Joan Allen, presents a fairly chronological view of the struggle as the Nazis systematically looted great works of art in such cities as Paris, Florence and St. Petersburg. The film opens and closes with one case in particular, Klimt's portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, which eventually was returned to its rightful owners and sold for about $135 million.

It also well details the heroic efforts of ordinary citizens to protect their national heritage, from the virtual emptying of the Louvre (the brief segment concerning the difficulty of moving the famed "Winged Victory" statue is itself engrossing) to the curators of the Hermitage hiding themselves and their treasures in a freezing underground passage.

The extensive archival footage is at times almost comically appalling, like the footage depicting the transformation of Goering's homey, wood-paneled hunting lodge into a gaudy, overstuffed museum.
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