To my readers I wish to apologize for not posting a music recommendation last night. I had a brutal headache and just couldn’t stay up to write. But I’m back tonight to write about movies.
Do you like history? True stories? Art? Ryan Reynolds? (haha) If you said yes to any of these, let me recommend Woman in Gold, a movie based on a true and amazing story of Nazis, art, and justice. Starring a great cast – Ryan Reynolds, the wonderful Helen Mirren, Katie Holmes, Daniel Brühl, Tatiana Maslany, Jonathan Pryce, and others – the movie toggles back and forth between 1930’s Austria and present-day Los Angeles.
Woman in Gold, Simon Curtis, 2015
The story revolves around a Jewish woman, Maria Altmann, who was forced to flee her home in Austria when the Nazis invaded just prior to the outbreak of WWII. The painting of her aunt, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, by Gustav Klimt, was looted from the family’s home (along with other paintings not mentioned in the film) by Nazi soldiers. Sixty years later, Altmann found evidence of her family’s ownership of the painting, which currently resided in an Austrian museum and was considered one of the country’s greatest art treasures. She hired the son of a friend, a young and inexperienced lawyer, to sue the Austrian government for the return of the painting to her family. Altmann and her lawyer, Randy Schoenberg, flew to Austria to sue for the painting, then ended up pleading their case before the United States Supreme Court.
Helen Mirren is brilliant as the aging Maria Altmann–at turns funny, fierce, and poignant. She was nominated for a Screen Actors Guild award for this role. Reynolds is his usual charming self, and is especially winning when trying to deal with the headstrong Altmann.
Alternating between the present-day scenes are short scenes of Altmann’s past as a beautiful young woman in love, who must sacrifice everything in order to escape her homeland in the wake of the Nazi invasion. The young Maria is played by Tatiana Maslany, who I mentioned last week as the star of Orphan Black. She is one of my favorite actresses, as is Mirren, and I was so pleased when I found the two of them playing the same person in this film. The flashback scenes help the viewer understand what is really at stake in this case–the heartbreaking losses suffered by innocent people just because of their ethnicity. Other movies have covered similar ground, for instance The Monuments Men, but these flashbacks add an emotional context that intensifies the legal struggle and makes it more personal.
I don’t think it’s spoiling the film to state that Altmann’s claim was ultimately successful. I remember when the real case was settled in 2006. It became quite controversial when the paintings recovered by Altmann were auctioned at Christy’s in New York. Ronal Lauder (of Estee Lauder cosmetics) paid $135 million for the painting, which at the time was the highest amount ever paid for a work of art. (That record has since been broken several times.) Many people criticized Altmann for pleading that the painting belonged to her family for sentimental reasons, when she then turned around and sold it off. But one must keep in mind the expense of keeping a painting of that quality and value; it certainly could not be kept in her home. Humidity control, deterioration prevention, and theft protection would cost a fortune, and the painting could not be seen by the public. Lauder placed the painting on permanent display in his Neue Galerie in NYC, a museum devoted to 20th-century art from Germany and Austria.
You can get a good idea of the qualities that make this film great by watching this trailer. If you have Prime Video from Amazon, you can rent the flick for $3.99. It’s definitely worth it, in my opinion. Just in case you’re wondering about the painting in question, here’s what it looks like:
Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, Gustav Klimt (1907)