Nazis. Damn they sucked.
Bookshelf Q. Battler here with a review of The Woman in Gold.
Based on real events, the film follows the story of Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren) and Randol Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds) in an underdog against the odds quest to return a famous painting once stolen by Nazi’s from Maria’s family.
The year is 1998 and Maria is an elderly boutique owner in California. Young Randol (Randy) is the son of an old friend of Maria’s. Randy’s a newly minted lawyer and having a rough go of it. His practice just went under, he and his wife (played by Katie Holmes) just have a newborn baby, and he’s just managed to secure a position with a big time law firm.
It all begins with some polite free advice – Maria consults Randy about what to do in light of the fact that the Austrian government has been making an effort to return artwork stolen by the Nazi regime to their rightful owners.
The painting in question? The much admired “Woman in Gold” painted by artist Gustav Klimt. Over the years, it moved from Nazi hands to a public art gallery and has become beloved by the country as “the Austrian Mona Lisa.”
The Woman in Gold – Movieclips Trailers
But to Maria, it’s a picture of her dear Aunt Adele.
The movie switches back and forth from past to present. Randy and Maria take on a government that doesn’t want to return the painting. In the past, young Maria once lived a happy life in a prominent Jewish family, where her father played the cello and there was much singing and dancing by all.
Alas, the Nazis come to power, roll into Austria, and Jewish people are robbed blind, their homes stripped of possessions. Nazis takeover Maria’s home and haul off all the artwork inside, including the portrait of Adele.
They’re forced to undergo all manner of humiliations, often cheered on by onlooking non-Jewish Austrians.
Maria’s family had worked hard for what they had and the Nazis took it all. So many decades later, for the elderly Maria, the fight for the painting’s return isn’t so much about the painting itself, or about the money (its worth at the time was 150 million), it’s a desire for the Austrian government to admit it did wrong – that Austrians welcomed the Nazis into the country with open arms and openly supported the mistreatment of Jewish citizens.
In the past, we see young Maria and her husband make a heroic and daring escape out of the country, after which they make their way to America. For the rest of her life, Maria feels resentment at those who turned Austria into a place she had to leave. She also feels guilt for leaving her family behind, and is angry at those who made her do so.
In the more recent past, the late 90’s, we see Randy go from viewing the case as a nuisance, then a chance to make some loot when he realizes how much its worth, and finally a chance to right a past wrong. Randy puts his career on the line and loses everything in pursuit of the case. Meanwhile, Maria goes from wanting to pursue the case to wanting to forget it all.
It becomes an international and complicated case as Randy battles the Austrian government in Austria, and later before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Do they win? Well…that’s a spoiler in gold, isn’t it? Ha ha ha.
This was an interesting and enjoyable film. It’s not getting a lot of press. It’s a film I like to call “Oscar-ish.” Hollywood often makes Oscarish films, movies about serious subjects and give actors a chance to flex their serious role chops but for whatever reason, they don’t end up in the Oscar running. That’s not to say this film won’t, though it is rather early in the season.
It’s also a story that needed to be told. I’m often amazed that even after so many WWII movies, even today there are stories that are still emerging. Maria’s family had worked hard for what they had, contributed to their society and the thanks they received was the government and their fellow citizens cheering on the Nazis in their anti-Jewish reign of terror.
Go see it, noble readers.
STATUS: SHELF WORTHY