Film Discussion: The Monuments Men (N. Europe)

Cinema Stats:

  • Released: 2014
  • Director, Producer, Screenplay writer: George Clooney
  • Stars: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett
  • Rating: PG 13. War violence, historical smoking
  • Length: 1 hour, 58 minutes
  • Based on novel by Robert M. Edsel and Bret Watter

Cher’s Ratings:

Cher’s Armchair Travel: Northern Europe, World War II

This is a great movie for everyone–artist, historian, traveler and lover of a good story. It has drama, adventure, intrigue, authentic history, great art, and a star studded cast. Fabulous actors who are perfectly matched with their roles, culminates in very endearing, credible characters.

The plot is a compelling untold story. In the greatest art heist in history, based on a true account, an unlikely World War II platoon is tasked to rescue art masterpieces from Nazi thieves and return them to their owners. In a mission that seemed impossible, the Monuments Men, as they were called, find them selves risking their lives in a race against time to avoid the destruction of 1,000 years of culture. Experts in art, not warfare, they are artists, architects, curators and art historians.

As the Monuments Men travel across Europe, we get a great sense of the breathtakingly beautiful countryside of Northern Europe. The scenes in Paris, although wartime in nature, will help a traveler to this famous city appreciate how it has been rebuilt and returned to a thriving center of art and culture. For me, it also instilled a desire to travel to Belgium where two of the artworks featured in the movie are safely back home–and ready for viewing once the pandemic restrictions are lifted. Michelangelo’s Madonna of the Bruges and the Ghent Altarpiece by the Van Eyck brothers, are worth the trip!

With an all-star cast, the actors shine in their roles. They are believable as individuals, totally out of their natural element in the arts, as they become field soldiers in a deadly war. They are convincing as they become true heroes in the fight against Hitler and Nazi obsessions.

Their story strives to answer the ever-present question: why is it important that we save art? The Monuments Men are convincing in their answer.

The convincing, all-star cast includes Matt Damon as James Granger and Cate Blanchett as Claire Simone, art curator in occupied France. They are seen here in a warehouse full of looted art ready to be sent off to eventually land in Adolf Hitler’s grandiose Fuhrermuseum.

George Clooney as Frank Stokes has been commissioned by President F. D. Roosevelt to head up the mission. Joining him as Monuments Men are Bill Murray as Richard Campbell, John Goodman as Walter Garfield, Jean Dujardin as Frenchman Jean Claude Clermont, and Hugh Bonneville as British office Donald Jeffries who ultimately gives his life trying to save Michelangelo’s Madonna of Bruges.

The massiveness of the intent to acquire great art for Hitler’ museum is seen in scenes such as this. As this Nazi checks out the rooms and rooms, and hundreds and hundreds of works of art, I recognized countless pieces. Hitler preferred art of the European masters, shunning the abstract genre that was pushing its way into the 20th century during the 1930s and 40s.

Viewing these scenes in the movie confirmed my life-long quest to be a culturally literate person, one who is able to recognize good art and significant artists, is a goal–and gift–to embrace, savor, and appreciate in life.

The Ghent Altarpiece by the Van Eyck brothers is one of the treasures that was looted, lost, sought and found by the Monuments Men. Monumental in size (11’5″ x 15’1″ open), its theft and recovery are significant to both the story and history. It is currently housed in the San Bavo Cathedral, Ghent, Belgium.

The Madonna of Bruges is a marble sculpture by Michelangelo of the Virgin and Child. Significant as one that is showcased in the movie, it was on Hitler’s Must Have List, had been stolen, stashed in a cave and recovered by the Monuments Men.

This historical photo shows the statue being recovered by the real life Monuments Men from the Altaussee salt mine.

The Madonna of Bruges is the only sculpture by Michelangelo to leave Italy during his lifetime (1502). It is currently at home at the Church of Our Lady, Bruges, Belgium. This famous sculpture is reason alone to visit Belgium!

Side note: Michelangelo is one of my all-time favorite artists. If you also enjoy his work, it has been included in several of my previous blogs: The Pieta (Good Friday 2020), Creation of Adam, Sistine Ceiling (Father’s Day 2020) and a special Michelangelo Alert! highlighting the Sistine Chapel Ceiling exhibit at the Mall of America, Bloomington, MN.

Historically accurate, The Monuments Men held the rapt attention of my history professor husband, who attested to its accuracy! And George Clooney is quoted saying “80% of the story is still completely true and accurate; almost all of the scenes happened…” (Markovitz, Adam. August 12, 2013. “George Clooney talks ‘The Monuments Men'” Entertainment Weekly).

Historical photos show real life photos of stacks and stacks of valuable art piled inside of priceless churches and castles.

Photos such as the one below of soldiers uncovering stolen masterpieces such as this Rembrandt self-portrait, provided great documentation for the movie and their mission.

The film is loosely based on the 2007 non-fiction book The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History by Robert M. Edsel and Bret Witter

Each time I watch this film, I am enriched by something new I see. It could be the recognition of a famous piece of art I missed before, a new appreciation for the beautiful countryside that inspired the Flemish Renaissance artists, or gratitude for the service of our armed forces past and present to keep us safe and free. This movie also inspires me to continue my quest to view and experience as much of the world’s great art while I am able to do so.

Related Posts

The return of art stolen by the Nazis is the theme of two additional blog posts. One blog highlights “Woman in Gold,” a painting by Gustaf Klimt that was stolen by the Nazis. The second blog is soon to be available: a Film Discussion, “Woman in Gold,” about the quest to return the painting to its rightful owner decades after its theft. I encourage you to check them out for some intriguing information.

One thought on “Film Discussion: The Monuments Men (N. Europe)

  1. I can only reinforce what Cher said about the country side, the buildings and the realistic history lesson. It is a great movie to watch – and watch again.

    Liked by 1 person

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