Theft happens in war, that’s why we have that phrase of “rape and plunder.” It is only recently that we’ve begun to see warfare as a crime and connected it to other crimes like theft. “Woman in Gold” is a fictional account of a Los Angeles true story. The story is intelligently and sensitively told with a touch of humor under the direction of Simon Curtis and written by Alexi Kaye Campbell.
Curtis noted that “immediately after the war, the human cost had been so disastrous with the loss of people and lives,” that we didn’t have time to consider other things, such as art. Curtis said, “The ‘Woman in Gold’ was last great hostage of World War II.”
The 2015 British-American “Woman in Gold” is inspired by the true story of Maria Altmann. Born in Vienna, Austria in 1916 as Maria Victoria Bloch, she was the niece of Adele Bloch-Bauer. Adele was the model for Gustav Klimt’s most famous painting, originally known as “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauther” and it was one of five Klimt paintings that the Nazis took from Altmann’s uncle and later ended up in the Austrian National museum.
The movie intersperses flashbacks throughout the film as Maria (Tatiana Maslany) recalls life in Vienna, Austria before the Nazi come into power and then we see the oppression of the Jewish community as they are sometimes helped and other times betrayed by their former community. Maria and her husband eventually escape. Her parents do not.
In the present day, the now elderly Maria (Helen Mirren) is widowed and has recently buried her sister. In her sister’s papers she finds notes about the Klimt paintings. She asks a friend of the family, Randol Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds), a young lawyer, to take the case. They end up on a road trip to Austria, a place that Maria doesn’t really want to see again and yet seeing it, she also sees some comforting ghosts from her past.
Maria and Randol meet up with Austrian journalist Hubertus Czernin, a man who has devoted himself to investigating the claims of stolen Nazi art. Together, these three will take on the Austrian government in the U.S. and in Austria.
For the director who had been working on this project for about six years, “the most important (he wanted people to take away from the movie) was that people forget especially the young about the progress made coming into this troubled century, that terrible things happened in the last century.”
With the chemistry of Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds together, Curtis was able “to bring a lot of the humor to the film” which Curtis wanted so that the subject matter would be “approachable as possible” despite being a legal drama.” And it is also “an odd couple journey” where we get to see different aspects of life in Vienna.
If you have seen the movie in theaters and liked it, then you’ll still want to get this DVD/Blu-ray. The extras make it worthwhile.
The special features include “The Making of ‘Woman in Gold,'” Feature commentary with Director Simon Curtis and Producer David M. Thompson and the “Stealing Klimt” documentary trailer. Through these you’ll get to see and hear more about the actual Maria Altmann and her lawyer E. Randol Schoenberg. The case changed Schoenberg’s life.
While some people have express disappointment that Altmann didn’t donate the painting to a public institute, Curtis said that as the rightful owner, Altmann had an absolute right to do as she wished with her property and provide for herself and her family.
In the commentary, you’ll here some of the reasoning for certain scenes and will be able to see some of the real people who make cameos in the film. Although the real journalist Czernin died not long after Altmann won her paintings back, his three daughters are in the crowd scene. Curtis calls him one of the unsung heroes of this whole case.
“Woman in Gold” is worth seeing to remember what war is and what art is and to know how stubborn pride resulted in the “Woman in Gold” leaving Vienna and taking up residence in New York where she is currently on view.