Woman in Gold delivers a powerful punch to the world’s conscience about the events surrounding Gustav Klimt’s famous painting “Adele Bloch-Bauer I” (1907). Stolen by the Nazis from Maria Altmann’s childhood home at such a turbulent time in history, the painting graced the halls of an Austrian museum until Altmann (Helen Mirren) and her lawyer, Randy Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds) decided to take on the Austrian government at a time when restitution of Nazi-stolen items to Jewish descendants was anything but the norm.
The movie follows the journey of Maria and Randy to not only get the painting back (and several others that were stolen), but to get some sort of justice, apology, or admission of guilt and blame from the Austrian government. The government and museum are quite unyielding in either, and not about to give up the prize painting of Vienna – which is described as ‘the Mona Lisa of Austria.’ In other words, the painting is a national symbol and extracting it from Austria seems an impossible feat.
Still, Maria and Randy show great tenacity. Maria goes through much emotional upheaval as her story is revealed. She left her parents to die as she escaped with her husband and made it to America. The painting takes on much more than just canvas and paint turned into some beautiful. It becomes a symbol of Maria’s pain and heartbreak, and much like Anne Frank’s diary, it becomes a symbol of the horror of The Holocaust told through the eyes of those who saw it first-hand.
The painting is also of someone she held very dear, her Aunt Adele, who died of meningitis before the Nazi occupation. She remembers Adele in flashbacks in the film: her beauty, her grace. She sites that those looking at the painting did not know the actual woman, Adele Bloch-Bauer (played in flashbacks by Antje Traue).
The movie spans several years, for it did actually take years for any sort of retribution to take place. The real Maria Altmann actually lived to be in her 90s and her case sparked a renewed interest in retribution cases for Jewish descendants. She used what power, money, and influence she had later in life to help with other Jewish restitution cases.
Mirren gives Maria strength, grace, and great finesse. Through her strength, she shows layers of defeat and sadness, and there is great depth to her performance. Reynolds upholds his end as well and his performance is solid and relatable. The audience sees the toll the case takes on his family and his wife, Pam (Katie Holmes). With director Simon Curtis at its helm, this is a movie that will tug at your heart and your conscience because of the vitality its historical significance cannot be ignored.
Today, Gustav Klimt’s gold-flecked “Adele Bloch-Bauer I”, or “The Lady in Gold,” hangs in the collection of the Neue Galerie in New York. A special exhibition was created with the release of this movie.
The DVD comes loaded with bonus material – including a full-length documentary about the case, and interviews with cast and crew.
Highly recommended, Woman in Gold is one not to miss. Maria’s story is one of truth, beauty, heartbreak, and sadness in the midst of one of the darkest times in our history. Through that darkness shines a light, gold-flecked and angelical lady. It is as if she was sent to remind us least we should forget the human condition and what remains in the darkest of times.