Maria Altmann’s remarkable true story of recovering stolen artwork from the Austrian government manages to get justice in Woman in Gold.
I found myself watching the film again during Tisha B’Av during a double header with Stanley Kramer’s Judgment in Nuremberg. Despite the fact that the Weinstein name is attached, please do not let that stop you from watching this film. Maria Altmann’s (Helen Mirren) story is but one of many Holocaust stories out there. A countless number are still waiting to be told.
Let’s cut straight to the point. Altmann immigrated to the United States during the Holocaust. While her parents died in her native Vienna, the Austrian native would live until passing away at 94 years old in 2011. After her sister died in 1998, she learned of the attempts to recover five Gustav Klimt paintings. The film ops to focus on Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I. That said, the real story involves attempts to recover these other paintings. As with many Jewish families at the time, the Nazis stole their artwork. Because of how they viewed Jews at the time, the Nazis would go onto rename the painting to Woman in Gold. The painting would find its way to the Belvedere Gallery where Austrians viewed it as their Mona Lisa.
Shortly after her sister’s passing, Altmann recruits Randy Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds) as her attorney. He’s young and he’s been out on his own before doing the whole law firm life again. Altmann believes she has a case for restitution but the attorney is in quite the pickle. She uses his Austrian ancestry as a way of signing onto the case. We quickly learn by way of an investigation that there was a systematic cover-up and denial in trying to keep the paintings in Austria. Hope is eventually lost until a lengthy legal battle takes them to the US Supreme Court and later, Austria.
Through flashbacks, we see Maria (Tatiana Maslany) and husband Fritz (Max Irons) living their life in Vienna. They see how the Nazis take everything away from them. Together, Maria and Fritz are able to make their escape but not after Maria makes one last goodbye. In a manner of wise editing, these final words get told after Maria truly gets justice for her family’s paintings. In real life, Maria doesn’t go to the US until after her father’s passing. Alexi Kaye Campbell’s screenplay does make some changes for dramatic purposes. However, the film never strays too far from its important message.
Mirren crushes it in her portrayal of the late Holocaust survivor. Both Reynolds and Maslany deliver strong performances. You can’t help but feel for the pain of the family as they go through so much.
Woman in Gold is just but one story in the ongoing battle for the return of stolen artwork during the Holocaust. There are many more stories out there.
DIRECTOR: Simon Curtis
SCREENWRITER: Alexi Kaye Campbell
CAST: Helen Mirren, Ryan Reynolds, Daniel Brühl, Katie Holmes, Tatiana Maslany, Max Irons, Charles Dance, Antje Traue, Elizabeth McGovern, Jonathan Pryce, and Frances Fisher