Art and War in Broad Strokes

Friday, September 28, 2007

How Adolf Hitler could slaughter millions, yet also revere art -- humankind's most crystalline celebration of beauty, truth and its own spiritual essence -- is the central conundrum at the heart of "The Rape of Europa."

Based on Lynn Nicholas's book of the same name, it details how the Nazis systematically stole, repatriated and collected the paintings and other art objects of Jews and other victims across Europe. It also draws our attention to the central irony of Hitler's beginnings as a failed artist in Austria before he decided to paint his name in blood instead. He was a fanatical collector, and his ultimate dream was to create a city of art museums and monuments in Linz, Austria, which would enshrine his legacy. He was still obsessing about its plans in his final moments.

The documentary, directed by Bonni Cohen, Nicole Newnham and Richard Berge, spills over with those and other fascinating facts and testimony: the way, for instance, the staff of the Hermitage museum in (what was then) Leningrad, Russia, prepared to spirit away their staggering number of treasures from the advancing Third Reich, or Maria Altman's legal battles to reclaim the famous Gustav Klimt painting of her aunt, Adele Bloch-Bauer, which was originally stolen by the Nazis. But as we progress ever deeper into the two-hour movie, "Europa" starts to lose its tight focus and becomes a cinematic cataloguing of events across seven countries. Given the moral imperative at the heart of the movie, however, perhaps more is more.

-- Desson Thomson

The Rape of Europa Unrated, 117 minutes Contains disturbing footage and testimony. At Landmark's Bethesda Row. The Rape of Europa Unrated, 117 minutes Contains disturbing footage and testimony. At Landmark's Bethesda Row.


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