- The Washington Times - Friday, September 28, 2007

We’ve all seen the ghastly piles of eyeglasses, shoes and the like that remained after Nazis systematically erased millions of people in World War II concentration camps. What we heard almost nothing about before the arrival of the new documentary “The Rape of Europa,” based on Lynn H. Nicholas’ 1995 book, is the slew of paintings that Hitler’s men either destroyed or stole.

The film traverses seven countries in order to tell the story of the Nazis’ mission to capture Europe’s great masterworks, expunge what they considered “degenerate art” from collections, and redefine the modern art landscape. The filmmakers (Richard Berge, Bonni Cohen and Nicole Newnham) tackle these issues through a smart combination of narration by actress Joan Allen, eyewitness testimony in a host of languages, archival footage and photographs.

This isn’t just a rundown of what was lost and found, although there are fascinating accounts of both. This is an exploration of what art means to a people and a culture, how war affects a culture, and what a few brave individuals did to protect what was important to them and the world at large.

We meet the woman whose parents were charged with guarding the “Mona Lisa” at their house in rural France. We learn about a group of people in Krakow who (futilely) dismantled then buried the altar from St. Mary’s Church rather than have it fall into Nazi hands. We hear about Deane Keller and the other valiant Monuments Men, whom the U.S. military sent to Europe to salvage the continent’s artistic masterpieces so that future generations could enjoy them.

Thousands of works were returned after the war. Thousands remain lost. Even after all these years, the parties involved (particularly the descendants of Jewish art dealers who are still battling to reclaim a part of their heritage) still seem genuinely puzzled and shocked by all that happened.

At once chilling, informative and gripping, “Europa” raises a lot of what-ifs and how-comes that don’t dissolve when the credits start rolling.

***1/2

TITLE: “The Rape of Europa”

RATING: Unrated (graphic images of war and some disturbing subject matter)

CREDITS: Written and directed by Richard Berge, Bonni Cohen and Nicole Newnham. Based on Lynn H. Nicholas’ book.

RUNNING TIME: 117 minutes

WEB SITE: http://therapeofeuropa.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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