Movie Review: 'The Rape of Europa'

Documentary traces Hitler's war on art


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Editor's note: This review originally appeared in March during the Pittsburgh Jewish-Israeli Film Festival. The movie will play Friday through Monday at Pittsburgh Filmmakers' Melwood Screening Room.

The immense extent to which Hitler's Third Reich methodically plundered the cultural treasures of Europe is the focus of the 2006 film "The Rape of Europa" (), its title a reference to a critically praised 1994 book of the same name and subject by Lynn Nicholas, which itself references a classic myth depicted by Old Masters such as Titian.

Hitler -- who had been rejected by the Academy of Fine Arts, Vienna, when a teen -- devised a program to purge what he labeled "degenerate art" (i.e., modern) and to usurp Europe's cultural heritage for his private collection, which he intended to display in a meticulously planned post-war "imperial city."

Heroism counters throughout, in such actions as those of citizens to hide art treasures from advancing Nazi troops and of the "monuments men," American and European art experts, working near the front lines to return looted works to rightful owners.

The scope of the nearly two-hour film is huge, and the mesmerizing story is told through black and white historic film clips interspersed with contemporary color footage. Regrettably, the film falls short of fully representing so complex and layered a subject, presumably due to length limitations.

This is particularly unfortunate regarding the current multifaceted, international and frequently controversial restitution effort, the goal of which is to reunite heirs with stolen artworks and which has been generating headlines of late.

The subject would have best been left to a second film since ongoing developments have already outdated this one. Too, the abbreviated and simplified presentation of these cases could be interpreted as an attempt to sway public opinion, which would challenge the neutral status of the documentary.

The film is a decent introduction to this appalling history; the book is definitive.

Not rated but contains some disturbing war imagery.


Post-Gazette art critic Mary Thomas may be reached at mthomas@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1925.


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