WWII was the most destructive war in history, but did you know it also caused the greatest dislocation of cultural artifacts in history? Hundreds of thousands of items remain missing to this day.
Last night I was invited to witness the greatest treasure hunt in history. Based on a true story few Americans have heard, The Monuments Men is an action drama focusing on an unlikely World War II platoon. In reality the burden fell to a 350 men and women, curators and archivists, artists and art historians from 13 nations, going into Germany to rescue artistic masterpieces from Nazi thieves and returning them to their rightful owners.
It would be an impossible mission. Art was trapped behind enemy lines, and with the German army under orders to destroy everything as the Reich fell. How could these seven American museum directors, curators, and art historians, all more familiar with Michelangelo than the M-1, possibly hope to succeed? But as Monuments Men they found themselves in a race against time to avoid the destruction of 1000 years of culture. They would risk their lives to protect and defend mankind’s greatest achievements and restore to Europe evidence of its own civilization.
In his best directed film since Good Night, and Good Luck, George Clooney, who also co-wrote the screenplay, proves he’s more than just another pretty face, collating archived information from Robert Edsel’s book, into a solid adventure story that seldom lags. Clooney also portrays an art historian named Frank Stokes, based on renowned Harvard art conservationist George Stout. He gathers six colleagues too old for the trenches and too out of shape for boot camp: one curator of medieval art at the Metropolitan Museum (Matt Damon), one architect (Bill Murray), one sculptor (John Goodman), one French art dealer (Jean Dujardin), one historian (Bob Balaban), one British art expert (Downton Abbey’s Hugh Bonneville) and a young German Jew who acts as a driver and translator (Dimitri Leonidas).
I highly recommend The Monuments Men as a riveting, suspenseful, and exciting film. Clooney managed to bring back big-scale entertainment with magnificent sets, stunning European locations and a fabulous score. It’s a genuine pleasure to experience a mature film about something that changed the world.
Trivia: From a newspaper report dated 13 December 2013: Police broke into the flat of Cornelius Gurlitt, the son of a Nazi art dealer who hoarded hundreds of works believed to have been looted by the Third Reich. Gurlitt has been the focus of huge media attention after a trove of over 1,400 previously unknown masterpieces were uncovered in his Munich flat. A task force appointed to research the origin of the art has said that around 590 pictures fall into the category of art looted or extorted by the Nazis from Jewish collectors. These include pieces by Picasso, Matisse, Munch and Cezanne among others