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George Clooney's 'The Monuments Men' makes European debut as looted art returns to headlines

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BERLIN - George Clooney's World War II art-rescue drama "The Monuments Men" made its European debut on Saturday, coinciding with a recent upsurge of interest in the fate of art looted by the Nazis. Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman and others joined Clooney to present the movie at the Berlin International Film Festival — but attention focused squarely on the director, co-writer and star.

REALITY MIRRORS ART

News in November that authorities had found more than 1,400 art works at the apartment of a reclusive German collector and were examining whether hundreds of pieces were seized by the Nazis shone a spotlight on the issue. "It's a story that's going to keep coming up, because of course there's still an awful lot of art that's missing and will be found in lots of people's basements," Clooney said at a news conference.

"It just happened to be one amazing find," he said. "But I'm glad it's part of the conversation again, because it's a good conversation to have about the responsibility of giving back things that don't belong to you."

UNUSUAL HEROES

The movie follows a World War II platoon whose mission is to rescue artworks from the Nazis as the war moves toward its end. It's based on a true story and adapted from a book by Robert Edsel.

Clooney acknowledged that "Hollywood does like a good World War II story" and has been making them for a long time — but this story, he said, offered something new.

"It wasn't to make a patriotic film as much as I thought it was to talk about a unique group of people who did something for the first time in the history of war — which is the victor didn't keep the spoils, they gave it back," he said. "And I thought that that was a rather extraordinary story to tell."

NOT SO CYNICAL

"The Monuments Men" came to the screen after co-writer and producer Grant Heslov read Edsel's book and showed it to Clooney. "He and I had been doing rather cynical movies for quite some time — and we'd been talking about doing something that was a little less cynical, because we're not quite as cynical as the films we tend to make," Clooney said.

The concept reminded him of films he loved when he was growing up, such as "The Guns of Navarone" and "Kelly's Heroes," he added.

A STICKY MOMENT

A journalist stood up and told Clooney she'd been preparing her question for two weeks. "Are you aware that you play the main role in the erotic fantasies for many women in the world, and that ... you're doing something nice for the mental health of women all over the world?," she asked.

"Why, thank you," Clooney deadpanned — adding, after a long pause: "I thought that you were going to ask a question."

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