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The Monuments Men: Enlightening look at wartime art heist

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The Monuments Men

The Monuments Men

The Monuments Men

Starring: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett, Jean Dujardin, Hugh Bonneville, Bob Balaban, Dimitri Leonidas


Director: George Clooney

Adolf Hitler loved art, sculpture and opera. George Clooney’s new film based on Robert M. Edsel’s book on the Allied armies and US president Roosevelt commissioned Monuments Men’s recovery of looted artworks shows an imposing model of Hitler’s “supermuseum”. Actually, Hitler wanted to convert the whole of his hometown of Linz, Austria into a “super-museum” housing every important artwork in the world?

But we shan’t haul Clooney over the coals after all, his film is a fictionalised account of a historical fact  presented through a small ensemble which focuses on the  Ghent Altarpiece or Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, a 15th century polyptych created by the van Eyck brothers and Michelangelo’s Bruges Madonna from the hundreds of thousands of stolen artworks.
As Frank Stokes, the leader of the mission, Clooney’s reverence for the Madonna has nothing to do with religious devotion but everything to do with the love of art, and the importance of conserving heritage. The viewer will enjoy seeing several masterpieces from the loot and be saddened by the destruction of contemporary masters (Picasso!!!) whom the Nazis disliked in their self-proclaimed antipathy to “low” art. (Jazz was deemed “degenerate”)

Tragic isn’t it when culture-vultures extend the same “high-minded” attitude to people. Thus, we are appalled at the sight of sacks and sacks of gold teeth extracted by the Nazis from the concentration camps. We see Milan in ruins and nuns and priests trying to salvage what they can from a bombed convent/church and miracle of miracles! The Last Supper, the wonderful mural painted by Leonardo da Vinci on the refectory wall, remains unscathed, a sight for sore eyes!

We realise early on in the film when Hitler’s second-in-command Herman Goering (Udo Kroschwald) visits Parisian curator Claire Simon (Cate Blanchett) who has the hots for the very moral, upright New York Met museum curator James Granger (Matt Damon) that the Nazis are stealing priceless treasures from Occupied European countries (but you aren’t told the Nazis were stealing from German churches and private homes long before the war began). What they didn’t steal, they burnt, deplorable act which Clooney’s film revels in showing.

The final retrieval of a huge trove from the mines is an exciting heist, whisked from under the noses of the Russian Communists.( Post-war Germany was divided into East-West blocs). Much is made of this “heist”. I wonder why would the Russians have hoarded the treasures for themselves or returned them to their rightful owners? Lest we forget, the Allied firebombing of Dresden destroyed masterpieces from the Dresden Art Gallery, which few are aware was an equal of the Louvre in Paris, the Prado in Madrid and the Uffizi in Florence.

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