Richard Berge, Bonni Cohen, and Nicole Newnham directed the film. The following is my interview with Richard Berge.
Your film maintains dramatic tension without melodrama. With WWII films, there is always this risk. Please talk about how you achieved a balance.
I am not sure if there is a subject that has had more movies and documentaries made about it than World War II. The History Channel is practically devoted to the subject. Going into this project, we knew that the biggest challenge would be to make a film that would seem brand new. I think the key was finding historical eyewitnesses/participants who seem absolutely real while telling fantastical tales that you practically can’t invent. And I think what comes through is this deep, heart-felt reverence that they all have for their culture and its artistic artifacts. They make us believe that something really important was at stake. Not that the art was more important than people’s lives, but that both could be precious and worth protecting at the same time.
How did you devise the film's narrative arc?
This was the hardest nut to crack. We had to contend with several countries, both armies and civilians, and then, on top of that, two different sorts of problems: the vast Nazi theft of art versus terrible wartime destruction committed by both sides. We struggled with how much historical background about the war was needed—what do people 60 years later still commonly know? Like all documentaries, it was a big puzzle, and we decided to structure the film roughly chronologically. And then we used Hitler and Goering as recurring figures to unify the whole.
I'd love to know more about art theft and destruction in the Iraq War and how Monuments Men were involved.
Also, I want to note that the music plays a really important function of unifying all the diverse narrative threads. The composer Marco d’Ambrosio created an almost Wagnerian score that offers subtle leitmotifs for different characters and countries. As the film jumps around from country to country, the music subtly prepares you for where we are going next, and sometimes, who is the next story about. It is a fabulous score, emotional in all the right ways, that he and his wife Terri arranged to have recorded in
Here’s an interesting side-story about recording in
How did the project come to be?
Nicole Newnham and Bonni Cohen read the book by Lynn H. Nicolas.
The Rape of Europa was made with three directors. How do you think this is reflected in the film? How did you decide the division of labor?
When you have an epic story that spans seven countries on two continents and six languages, suffice it to say that it’s a lot for a single director to handle. It’s our secret how we divided up the job.
My knowledge is limited with regard to the looting that occurred in