The Rape of Europa
Cleveland International Film Festival 2007
This is, without a doubt, the best film I have ever seen at the Film Festival. If my coworkers and I had won the Mega Millions a few weeks ago, I would have bought everyone I know a copy of this film.
This film tells the story of the systematic plunder and destruction of artwork by the Nazis during WWII, and the efforts of the Allies to rescue the legacy of Western Civilization.
I had first heard about this effort during my AP Euro class, where I saw a short documentary film about the place of the Louvre in France. Many people forget that the Louvre was once a French palace, and it’s place in the history of Paris goes back hundreds of years. The film mentioned how the Parisians, just before the invasion of their country, stripped the Louvre bare of all of its treasures, and hid them throughout the countryside. At the time, I chuckled to myself, “That’s so French. ‘Our country’s being invaded. Save the artwork!'”
After seeing this film, I cannot laugh at them any more, only admire their courage and their will. Future generations of art lovers, and indeed of humans, owe them a debt that we can never repay.
This film is powerful beyond description. It is haunting, it is saddening, but it is also joyful and moving. It’s about art, but it’s about so much more than art. It’s about how humans respond to evil, about loss, and also about preservation.
I should point out, that while the majority of the art destruction and plundering were done by the Nazis, at times history worked the other way. In an air raid by American fighter pilots, Americans bombed Monte Cassino, a monastery in Italy over 1500 years old, with ties to St. Benedict, the originator of the Benedictine order. In addition, the film also shows artwork that was plundered by the Russians from Germany in the post war era, which the Russians keep as an act of revenge for the sufferings the Russians endured during WWII (which were numerable and horrific, I certainly don’t deny them that.)
The film also shows how the art theft and plundering is not simply something in the past, but we are still struggling with the after affects of the war, and will for decades. Thousands of paintings have been lost, including a paining by Raphael, and some of them are lost forever. In addition, workers in Pisa still try to piece together medieval frescos that were shattered into thousands of tiny pieces in a bombing campaign.
The two prevailing emotions of this film are grief and hope, and they are best represented in two anecdotes about Florence.
In the first anecdote, the film describes how the Nazis, when they abandoned Florence, decided to blow up Florence’s bridges. These bridges were designed by Michelangelo, and they were considered an intrinsic part of Florence’s art and cultural heritage. It is heartrenching to watch.
Later on, the film describes how the Allies, after VE day, brought back the artwork the Nazis had plundered from the Florentines. The people rejoyced in the streets to see their treasures brought back, and one woman described it as “a victory of beauty over horror.”
So, by any means necessary, watch this film. Go to your local library and request this film. Buy it on Amazon.com (it’s close to $25, but worth every penny!) But please, I am begging you, see this film, “imagine a world without masterpieces,” and rejoyce at “the victory of beauty over horror.”