Review: The Treasures of Crimea (2021)


The Treasures of Crimea (2021)

Directed by: Oeke Hoogendijk | 82 minutes | documentary

The subject of Oeke Hoogendijk’s latest documentary ‘The Treasures of Crimea’ (2022) about a legal dispute that dragged on for years suddenly became topical again during the premiere with the Russian invasion of Ukraine. When Russia annexed the Ukrainian peninsula Crimea in 2014, the Allard Pierson in Amsterdam was faced with a difficult question: to whom belong the historical works of art that they had received on loan from various museums in Crimea for their exhibition: De Krim — Gold and the secrets of the Black Sea? Are the beautiful archaeological finds sometimes thousands of years old Ukrainian heritage and do they have to be returned to Kyiv, or just back to the museums in Crimea, which had fallen into Russian hands?

The Allard Pierson leaves the decision to the judge, which is the prelude to a bitter legal battle between two camps. A battle in which the name of the law firm Houthoff, located in Amsterdam’s Zuidas – with which Putin for years strengthened his geopolitics and which recently became discredited about it – stands out.

Hoogendijk regularly moves in the world of art with her films, such as the successful ‘Het Nieuwe Rijksmuseum’ (2013, 2014) and ‘My Rembrandt’ (2019). This time, her look into the interior rooms of museums, curators and archaeologists takes on the character of a legal thriller. Unfortunately, one that does not want to captivate at all. The wrangling between the lawyers is mainly a dry, legal affair. It’s great that Hoogendijk therefore has an eye for the human side of the story. The real losers of this geopolitical game are mainly the employees of the Crimean museums, whose professional life is linked to these art treasures and who are now seen as traitors in Kyiv.

Hoogendijk portrays the duel, as we are used to from her, attractively and elegantly. And here too, as a characteristic stylistic device, she cuts the words of those involved into short one-liners, which she scatters here and there as floating statements that set the tone under the images. The latter works a little less well this time, perhaps because, apart from the muscle language of some lawyers, there is no real intrigue and most of those involved are mainly on the sidelines in this unusual but otherwise procedural matter.