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Review: Woman in Gold


ABOUT: Woman in Gold is a 2015 British-American drama film directed by Simon Curtis and written by Alexi Kaye Campbell. The film stars Helen Mirren, Ryan Reynolds, Daniel Brühl, Katie Holmes, Tatiana Maslany, Max Irons, Charles Dance, Elizabeth McGovern, and Jonathan Pryce.

The film is based on the true story of the late Maria Altmann, an elderly Holocaust survivor living in Los Angeles who, together with her young lawyer, E. Randol Schoenberg, fought the government of Austria for almost a decade to reclaim Gustav Klimt’s iconic painting of her aunt, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, which was confiscated from her relatives by the Nazis in Vienna just prior to World War II. Altmann took her legal battle all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States, which ruled in her favor in Republic of Austria v. Altmann (2004).

The film was screened in the Berlinale Special Galas section of the 65th Berlin International Film Festival.

It is extremely important that we have this film. Sure the story has been told but really, not many people know it. Did you know that over 100,000 pieces of Art stolen by the Nazis still have not been returned to their current owners? I did not and I consider myself well informed. Is this a cinematic masterpiece? Hardly, but like some songs you don’t need to embellish the tune with vibrato – a pure, clean voice works best. The story here is intense and frankly, I do not believe that more drama would add to it.

Yes, the screenplay was somewhat weak but when you have Helen Mirren in the lead role the priority becomes her performance and she is brilliant. “The Oscar winner plays Maria, an unlikely hero who battled to recover her family’s Klimt painting after it was stolen by the Nazis.”

Gustav-KlimtDaily Mail UK says, A decade ago, Maria Altmann drew international attention when she successfully sued the Austrian government to reclaim five family paintings that were stolen by the Nazis during World War II.

And her triumphant story has now been given the big screen treatment, with Dame Helen Mirren portraying her, alongside Ryan Reynolds, who plays her attorney E. Randol Schoenberg.

Plot: In the late 1990s, Maria Altmann (Mirren) runs a dress shop in Los Angeles. Sixty years earlier she fled her native Austria to escape Hitler’s persecution of the Jews. Now in her 80s, and upon the death of her sister, she hopes to wrest some of her family’s treasured paintings — including Gustav Klimt’s 1907, ‘Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer,’ also known as “Woman in Gold” — from an Austrian government that holds the works and won’t relinquish them. The Austrians revere the painting as “the Mona Lisa of Austria,” but to Maria it is a picture of the beautiful aunt she loved and lost. She retains a young lawyer, Randol Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds), in the seemingly chimerical pursuit of recovering her family trove. If they succeed, any number of other masterpieces might legally be returned to the heirs of their rightful owners.

The UK Mirror writes, Dame Helen Mirren, 69, says: “It was justice. The Austrian government didn’t want to give them back. Hopefully it will show people you can fight against the odds and sometimes, occasionally, brilliantly, miraculously win.”

The Austrian government fought tooth and nail to keep the paintings, especially the Woman In Gold, which had become known as the Austrian Mona Lisa. ­

Viennese lawyers did everything in their power to show Maria had no legal claim to their family treasures.

And Maria noted at the time: “They will delay, delay, delay, hoping I will die. But I will do them the pleasure of staying alive.”

Historical detail is important here and often what may seem fantastical simply is not. The director, Simon Curtis says; my family were all safely in the UK before WWII, so I don’t have a Holocaust story. But I feel culturally Jewish, and definitely identify with all of that… There’s a tension between authenticity … though what is authenticity? You just do your best. You research as much as possible.

And in the case of this film, when the Nazi cars come in, we recreated an actual shot — when the Jews are painting on the wall — that was an actual photograph that you can find when you Google it, that we recreated.

Ryan Reynolds plays lawyer Randol Schoenberg. They met in L.A. one day when Schoenberg visited the set. “I was dressed in khakis and a long sleeve shirt, and he walked over and looked at me and was wearing the exact same outfit. He said, ‘Nailed it! They dressed me as you.’”

Reynolds is a weak actor but here he plays Schoenberg sympathetically. There are no nuances or layers but the story is not his and although Schoenberg was instrumental in getting the painting back, he is kind of a footnote [sorry] to the bigger picture.

In Rotten Tomatoes Allan Hunter says, ‘The film is forgivably simplistic and sentimental but also stirring when it reminds us once again of the countless injustices from the Nazi era that can never be made right or forgotten.’ I would agree. I think that the story here is what counts most.


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