The Monuments Men (2014) is based on the book The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History by Robert M. Edsel and Bret Witter, and is directed by George Clooney (who, of course, also heads the star-studded cast). It centers on a group of art historians, conservationists, archeologists, and other civilian academics working for the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program (MFAA) of the Allied forces during World War II, which was tasked with finding and returning works of art stolen during the Nazi occupation. Of course, there are major liberties taken in the process of telling a concise story, as this Slate article laid out shortly after the film debuted. That said, it’s an entertaining piece of historical fiction that gets the idea across without getting bogged down in the complexities of reality.
As a war flick the costuming is naturally mostly focused on military uniforms, but costume designer Louise Frogley at least had Cate Blanchett upon which to pile all the interesting clothing. Good thing, too, otherwise there wouldn’t be a lot to talk about here in this excellent film. Frogley recalls that the reality of costuming a film set in a relatively recent era wasn’t exactly simple or straight forward:
“Many of the original uniforms have been sold, destroyed or are in bad condition. This stuff doesn’t last long if it’s not looked after. There’s original stuff still in existence, but the sizes are almost always too small. We had some [original] Nazi jackets, but in sizes like 36-chest — and no trousers.”
As the lone female in the cast, Cate Blanchett plays Claire Simone, whose character was based on curator Rose Valland, a Frenchwoman who worked for Jeu de Paume Museum in Paris during the Nazi occupation and whose intel was central to the Allied forces recovering stolen artworks. Naturally, she’s got the most interesting and varied costumes in the film, despite the fact that she is hardly in it.
All in all, The Monuments Men is a decent flick with competent costuming for an era that we routinely pass on covering simply because there’s not a whole lot to talk about aside from uniforms. I think it was undeservedly panned when it came out, as critics seemed to be primed to roll their eyes at the entire concept of saving art during a war — something the film addresses directly at the end, when one character interrogates Clooney’s character over whether or not it was worth risking lives to rescue art from the evil clutches of the Nazis. But I liked it, so vive la différence.
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