Review | Monuments Men

via avoir-alire.com

via avoir-alire.com

 

World War II has long been a staple of Hollywood scripts. Films about the war were being made during the war; Casablanca being one of the most famous examples. The pace has hardly let up since, and the movie-going public lap up World War II films. It’s no longer enough, seventy years on, to tell straight stories of battle and horror; instead there must be a lesser-known angle involved. Alternative history (Inglourious Basterds), the disintegration of Hitler’s inner circle at the end of the war (Downfall), life for ordinary Germans, narrated by Death himself (The Book Thief).

The Monuments Men (directed by George Clooney, Cert 12) tells the tale of the curators recruited towards the end of the war to preserve the art of Europe. Given the wholesale destruction of entire cities (Dresden, formerly called ‘The Jewel Box’, is the most famous example of a city being levelled), the real-life Monuments Men did a remarkable job. Decades on, however, Nazi-looted art still turns up at auction. Five members of the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Program (to give the unit their proper title) are still alive. Two were killed during the war.

Many reviews have focused on the inaccuracies of the film. Unfortunately, this is the reality of film-making. Over 350 MFAA members are compressed down to roughly eight characters, and these are given false names. This is quite a baffling decision, seeing as the facts are a matter of historical record, and the film is based on the book of the same name by Robert M Edsel.

Leaving this aside, the film manages to be entertaining and affecting at the same time. Personally, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Reviews have been mixed to say the least, but for me, I felt the film told an important story without taking itself too seriously.

France has been liberated and the Nazis are on the run, but the war is far from over and danger abounds at every turn.

The motley crew, in the mode of Kelly’s Heroes or The Dirty Dozen, struggle through military training in the States (these guys are architects, museum curators and artists, and most of them are over 50) and then, once they get to Europe, they are split into pairs. Probably the most entertaining duo is Private Preston Savitz (Bob Balaban, who you might recognise as Frank Buffay Senior in Friends) and Sergeant Richard Campbell (the always-excellent Bill Murray). Their love-hate relationship provides the film with a lot of its humour.

France has been liberated and the Nazis are on the run, but the war is far from over and danger abounds at every turn.

Meanwhile in Paris, Lieutenant James Granger is trying to persuade Claire Simone (Cate Blanchett), the very French former secretary of SS officer Viktor Stahl (Justus von Dohnayni) to tell him what she knows about the stolen art.

The episodic structure of the story may irk some, and the flashes of Hitler looking at a model of his planned museum are quite frankly unnecessary, but this is old-fashioned entertainment, the kind of film you could see yourself sitting down with on a rainy Sunday afternoon with all generations. It’s rare to see that type of film being made anymore. Perhaps that’s why it’s so enjoyable.

It’s not all knock-about fun, naturally. Apart from bursts of violence, there’s the emerging news from the concentration camps. These unexpected interludes are more shocking for their brevity- when the soldiers plunge their hand into a sack filled with gold teeth the horror of the Holocaust is expressed with sickening precision.

Perhaps your opinion of the film will be shaped by your own outlook on the preservation of art. Part of me agrees with the straight-talking CO at the beginning of the film, that saving a life is more important than making sure old buildings are left intact. Yet, another part of me was distraught when witnessing the Nazis firebombing to thousands of works of art, just to stop the Allies getting it. The Monuments Men doesn’t always succeed- the scenes featuring the Putin-esque Russian commander on his way to grab the art for the Soviets were also unnecessary- the film is a well-intentioned tribute to these real-life heroes who ensured that Europe’s treasures were not destroyed by evil.

World War II has long been a staple of Hollywood scripts. Films about the war were being made during the war; Casablanca being one of the most famous examples. The pace has hardly let up since, and the movie-going public lap up World War II films. It’s no longer enough, seventy years on, to tell straight stories of battle and horror; instead there must be a lesser-known angle involved. Alternative history (Inglourious Basterds), the disintegration of Hitler’s inner circle at the end of the war (Downfall), life for ordinary Germans, narrated by Death himself (The Book Thief).

The Monuments Men (directed by George Clooney, Cert 12) tells the tale of the curators recruited towards the end of the war to preserve the art of Europe. Given the wholesale destruction of entire cities (Dresden, formerly called ‘The Jewel Box’, is the most famous example of a city being levelled), the real-life…

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