Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Rape of Europa film review: by Erik Burns

The film: The Rape of Europa chronicles the Nazi looting and plunder of artwork and culture across Europe.  The documentary aligns different Nazi military invasions with priceless masterpieces looted from each city.  It then goes on to show the efforts of the different nations (most notably the USA’s Monuments Men) attempts to avoid destroying irreplaceable works of arts, especially monuments and important buildings.  The film deals with the sensitive tradeoff between human life, and the protection of priceless art and artifacts.  
            Art defines culture, it allows for the telling of history through creativity.  The story of Europe’s past was captured in a series of artworks, including paintings, sculptures, structures, and monuments.  It is important for these artworks to be shown to their people, and the people who come to visit the places where that are being shown.  During the war however, this left them extremely venerable, both to looting, and to destruction. 
            The film shows the destruction of the Warsaw Castle, a vital part of the Polish culture, a culture that Hitler wanted to rid from the earth.  The structure was so important, that thousands of Polls died to defend it, and exclaimed that Poland could not be defeated as long as the castle stood.  Holes were bored all thought the structure, and were filled with explosives.  The Nazis constantly threatened to level the building, and four years later, when there was an uprising, he made true on his word, bringing the entire castle crumbling to the ground. 
            On one hand there were people who would risk their very lives to protect their cultural art on the basis of pride.  On the other, there were people from across the globe being ordered to lose their lives to protect something that they had no connection to.  In Casino Italy, the American soldiers were in a standoff with the Germans who they believed were hiding out in an Abby.  They had strict orders not to destroy the structure due to its importance to the entire world.  To the soldiers however, it seemed that their lives, and the lives of their friends were being wasted solely in the name of saving the building that they had no connection to.  The documentary showed an interview with one of the American soldiers, where he basically stated that he understands the importance of avoiding the destruction of art, but if that’s the case, a decision must be made not to pursue the enemy into a place where soldiers’ lives are placed in the way of the art. 

            The Monuments Men were created to be protectors of the art.  The branch consisted of artists and art historians, who were often at the front line, risking their lives to preserve the great masterpieces of Europe.  Many Europeans saw them as heroes who died in the name of preserving a foreign culture.  While hundreds of thousands of artworks were destroyed, the millions of people (not just soldiers) who lost their lives to protect the art and culture of Europe were not in vein.  Whether they died from an order, or because they felt that their own lives were worth risking to save their culture, those men and women are the reason that we can view such masterpieces like the Mona Lisa, or Klimt’s Portrait of Adele to this day.  The film kept a balanced argument to the touchy subject of human life verses the preservation of art and culture, by utilizing interviews and real life accounts from many different points of view.

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