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There is a certain beauty to this film. A bunch of not really military style gentlemen (historians and artists) getting prepped to enter the German-French-Belgian war zone in order to identify and catalogue the most precious bits of European art under imminent peril by the war activities and the Nazi’s collecting frenzy… that provides for all the necessary ingredients for a good-looking WWII film. Uniforms and explosions, beautiful French resistance ladies and plenty of European churches. It is a bit like Inglorious Basterds all over again. However… it suffocates a little bit in its production design and tries very hard to not engage in too much of a war drama, keeping its focus on the art and the beauty and the meaning as a backbone of society. Until somebody (George Clooney, I guess, him serving as director here again) realises that this is a bit dull, and does not satisfy the expectations of an audience that was lured into a war drama. Hence drama is introduced in the form of battles and stand-offs, shells flying and people dying. A motif is introduced in the form of one specific Madonna, which appears to be more worthwhile to recoup than all the rest of this immortal (or sometimes not quite immortal) art. And that Madonna then serves as the Private Ryan in that “We Will Not Stop Until…” etc. etc.

May that be rooted in the reality of the story, it makes for odd cinema. I felt the film would really love to stick with a non-dramatic approach but had to cave in to the requirements of the medium. As a result, there is too much “Basterds” and “Private Ryan” and not enough “Monuments” or “Lore” (a pleasantly non-dramatic war refugee film of recent years).

That is not to say it is a bad film, far from it. I enjoyed the whole setting, enjoyed the splendid array of quality actors (Clooney, Damon, Murray, Dujardin, Blanchett), I forgave John Goodman for being again the slightly out of place comic relief guy (“did you know they were using life bullets??”), and of course nothing can be fundamentally wrong with a film that has Clooney full-bearded (the mustache period, on the other hand… maybe this is where the film lost my undivided attention, I certainly had to look away a couple of times).

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