Woman in Gold
Action / Biography / Drama / History
Woman in Gold
Action / Biography / Drama / History
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Maria Altmann (Dame Helen Mirren) sought to regain a world famous painting of her aunt plundered by the Nazis during World War II. She did so not just to regain what was rightfully hers, but also to obtain some measure of justice for the death, destruction, and massive art theft perpetrated by the Nazis. —Elyse J. Factor.
Uploaded By: FREEMAN
Aug 18, 2021 at 05:21 PM
grade Movie Reviews
A great film that fell through the cracks
My original perception was that this was an indie flick that only played in the art houses because it was an artsy film. the truth is that it's a great film that simply didn't get the luck of the draw when it came with mass distribution. Woman in Gold would be at home with any of the Oscar nominees and contenders and would easily be considered more of an outright crowd pleaser than a film like Danish Girl (which got nominated in acting categories) or Brooklyn (which did make the final cut for Oscar). The film is based on an eight-year-long quest by a California-based lawyer of Austrian descent and a longtime family friend from the motherland (the prior relationship between the characters is erased in the adaptation process) to reclaim confiscated art by the Nazis. The film's main strength is that it's neither a holocaust story nor is it a standard courtroom drama, but it's a fresh new take on both genres. As for the former, the film feels fresh through its specificity to the Austrian experience and the specificity of a wealthy family. The film is more relatable to the experience of anyone descended of an immigrant who had to leave the old regime. As for the latter, the film's main challenge wasn't showing a guy having his flashy day in court but rather a long slog as it was taking a toll on his life. The film handles this challenge in pacing admirably. More than that, the film flies on the strength of its central relationship. You never think of Ryan Reynolds (best known for subversive leading men or a smug action stars) and Helen Mirren as occupying the same universe but the chemistry between the two goes a long way towards making this film transformative. The film is a powerful one about remembrance and loss. It teaches that one can't fix the past, but healing those wounds is a noble cause.
Compelling, convincing presentation of a shockingly-irresistible true story
Lovers of the art that is film sometimes tend (or even wish) to play down the irreducible fact that "having a good story to tell" is part of the deal.In "Woman in Gold" from British Director Simon Curtis, the story resembles that of several family histories present in the superb genealogy documentary "Who do You Think You Are?" in that we move backwards and forwards - in just a step or two - from the world we know (Los Angeles and Vienna in the 1990s and early 2000s) to the world of a 1938 Austria in which people line the streets to welcome and cheer on Hitler's Anschluss and watch enthusiastically as poor Jews in the streets have their pigtails and beards cut off for humiliation purposes.And, while much of the Fuhrer's Berlin was pounded to rubble, in parts of Vienna you actually can go back to blocks of flats once inhabited by Jewish people the Nazis exterminated.Here a splendid Helen Mirren portrays Maria Altmann, who could also (though was in fact phobically reluctant to) go back to her childhood home in Vienna seized without mercy and never returned. At an early stage, Mirren's Altmann reminds us that 50 years is not actually that long a period...In fact, Maria's life stood out just a little from those of celebrities featured in "Who do You Think You Are?" in that she was among several members of her family to survive the Holocaust - as opposed to the typical situation of being the only one, or at least a descendant of the only one. While Jews rich and poor died, Maria's family had been very well-to-do, and her sugar-manufacturing uncle was astute and influential enough to get out of Vienna quickly. But naturally enough, he had limited capacity to take away property including the titular subject of this movie, the Gustav Klimt painting of Maria's Aunt Adele Bloch-Bauer, which the Austrian state "acquired" smoothly enough post-War (as the country began the process of portraying itself as a victim of Hitler's aggression); this work of art resembling so many others in having been stolen by the Nazis from Jews they were about to cart off and kill.Ironically, perhaps, Klimt was not a particular favourite for the Nazis, being regarded as at least semi-"degenerate". Had it been fully so the painting might have been summarily destroyed. Equally, had it been fully acceptable, it would doubtless have left Vienna for the Fatherland rapidly enough, as did several other treasures of Maria's family.And so to the main story, in which Ryan Reynolds plays lawyer Randy Schoenberg - a junior branch of a family also in Maria's circle of Austrian-Jewish escapees, and in fact a grandson of the famous Arnold - a composer unreservedly deemed "degenerate" by the Nazis, who escaped to the US as early as in 1934, only dying in LA in 1951.In the film - as in life - it is Randy's job to persuade the Austrian authorities - and above all people - that art acquired in the above way cannot in good conscience go on hanging on the walls of the Belvedere Gallery as "Austria's Mona Lisa".Sounds reasonable enough, right? Well, in fact, Maria and Randy had a 6-year legal battle on their hands which faced stubborn resistance from Austria. Revindication had only come on to the agenda at all thanks to a 1998 Act pushed for by Nazi-hunter journalist Hubertus Czernin - as superbly played in the film by Daniel Bruhl.It would be easy to imagine that a story of this kind cannot be messed up in film form, but that would be too optimistic. Many such films are indeed messed up, for example by caricature good guys and bad guys speaking English "viz a strong Jarman exent". Here authentic German is resorted to and everything looks and feels right (which in the context of the story sometimes means "very wrong"). Mirren does her job well, naturally, but her pairing with Reynolds is excellent and the development of Maria and Randy's relationship also a joy. When Bruhl joins them from time to time it just gets even better.On the whole, the film is also understated, which here is good. But it gives us a hint of the richness of the Jewish culture in old Vienna - most especially when Maria's wedding is portrayed - and this is as fascinating as it is moving and tragic, given the infinite evil soon deployed against it.In essence, then, a remarkable and important story recreated perfectly.It's a story all need to know, with an ending of victory and a hint of happiness, albeit muted - as Mirren's Altmann makes clear. But this educational process is also a great cinematic experience - a must-watch indeed.
Solid Dramatic Biopic Worth your Time
"When people see the famous portrait, they see a masterpiece by one of Austria's finest artists. But I see a picture of my aunt, a woman who talked to me about life while I brushed her hair in her bedroom." Truer and more earnest words could not have been spoken better than that of Austrian- Jewish holocaust survivor, Maria Altmann, known for successfully reclaiming some of her family paintings from the Austrian Government that were abducted by the Nazis. Today's film tackles that subject, and upon viewing it for the first time, it managed to speak above higher levels of sincerity and personal attachment that I don't see often in cinema.The first notable element that the film portrays beautifully is the character of Maria Altmann herself. Growing up as a child in the mid-20s, she saw her aunt Adele Bloch-Bauer being used to create the grim yet beauteous woman in the portrait known as Woman in Gold. Adele had a few portraits made of her by Austrian symbolist painter Gustav Klimt at age 25 through negotiations by her husband. Considering how much the portrait of her aunt meant to Maria personally, it makes sense that she would feel disgusted to see how this painting was used in later years. In fact, throughout the film, we see flashbacks of Maria's childhood that perfectly immolates her lifespan from childhood to young adulthood. Given how close Maria felt to her aunt as elegantly displayed in these flashbacks, this makes the symbolism of the gold painting all the more powerful. Klimt's intention was to showcase a "swirling gown within a blaze of gold rectangles, spirals and Egyptian symbols", creating her aunt as the personification of Vienna's Golden Age. After her aunt died, the family would look upon the paintings through divineness, leaving Maria only with memories of the paintings, before they were taken away. This is what presents the "Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I" as a symbol of all that her family had lost.One aspect that the film never shies away from is the horrible treatment of European Jews. As mentioned before, the film often depicts flashbacks of Maria's struggles in Austria. Not just the treatment of "inferior" people, but by also demonstrating Nazis taking family possessions away from their original owners and would never have them restored. Maria's story compliments this unfortunate event, but the idea that it's best to let go of the past plays a notable contrast, despite how unjustified the act was. Sure, those who may not have been affected by it could still feel sorry for such a tragedy, but the ones who had a piece of them taken away by their foes just adds into how much of a double-edged sword the justice behind this act really is.Adding on to the well personified protagonist, the acting is also spot on. Helen Mirren is able to showcase the guilt hidden in Maria from how she abandoned her family to live a safer life, and is excellent at presenting her conflicted soul. She perfectly understood how Maria was tangled up between the past and the need to move on, elevated with tough emotions. Ryan Reynolds may be praised for Deadpool nowadays, but he is able to personify lawyer Randy Schoenburg (grandson of composer Arnold Schoeburg) as a young persistent lawyer extraordinarily. As a struggling family man with strong conviction for his roots, Reynolds leaps his persona to whole new heights as a determined lawyer in getting justice back to the right person.Similar to Big Eyes, the supporting cast either come off as obstacles or supporters in the protagonist's determination to gain their rightfully owned possessions back. Some like Hubertnus Czernin and Pam Schoenburg do support the duo in their court cases and battles against false copyright claims as well as giving some insight on their own pasts. Others, on the other hand, like Dr. Dreimann, Rudolph Wran, and those in favor of the Austrian government are highly intelligent and guarded civilians who have to deal with someone wanting back a possession which is also a legendary piece of their motherland. Not to mention, the court room scenes are at their most complex, especially in how Randy exercises in ownership loopholes and fighting against claims of the 1976 copyright act.Now the story itself does fall a little derivative with the two main leads conflicting with one another throughout before officially teaming up. Yet as overused as it seems, it actually helps give Randy a clear purpose to aid Maria given how much he cares about the identity of his own people as much as hers. Along with the gut-wrenching drama, the film occasionally sneaks in some subtle humor for good measure. Even if this was to keep the horrid trauma from what it truly was in real life, it gives off a more relatable vibe with the story and characters for the audience. Finally, the use of grim cinematography during the flashbacks fits perfectly with the time period to create the right sense of depression in contrast to the brighter cinematography of Altmann's court cases in '99.With sharp acting, well defined characters, and perfect contrast between the past and future, Woman in Gold is such remarkable insight on a fascinating woman who fought the law to gain her rightfully owned possessions back. The film actually ends with a quote that states, "It has been estimated that over 100'000 works of art taken by the Nazis have not been returned to their rightful owners". That quote only makes Maria's success all the more unique seeing as how much that piece meant to her, even if it meant taking a historic piece of art away from Austria. While some may not know of the actual history, this motion picture manages to stay true to the facts, and would definitely recommend to anyone who wants to see an underdog story about gaining one's memories back.
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