“Comprehensive” would be a charitable way to describe the documentary The Rape of Europa; “tedious” would be equally accurate and a little more honest, though. While the movie tackles a very important subject with care and breadth, it’s also dry and sedate, presenting some amazing stories with all the gusto of a textbook. Actress Joan Allen narrates, almost monotonously, this account of the wholesale cultural plunder practiced by the Nazis during World War II. She tells of Hitler’s grand hopes for the world’s greatest art museum, which he planned to put together by stealing masterpieces from every country he invaded, and details the German army’s coordinated strategy to eradicate the cultural monuments of any part of Europe they considered non-Germanic.
Among the nearly two hours of talking heads and archival footage are a handful of truly fascinating tales, including one of a museum clerk who kept a meticulous record of all the paintings the Nazis stole from Jewish art dealers in Austria, and another of the “Monuments Men,” the crew of U.S. art experts who followed the army around and worked to preserve works of art and architecture in the midst of battle. It’s impossible to give all the material its due even with the lengthy running time, and while Europa will make for a fine addition to the History Channel lineup in a few months, its lack of both style and focus keeps it from being a success as a feature film.
The Rape of Europa
Directed by Richard Berge, Bonni Cohen and Nicole Newnham