Helen Mirren does a mean glance and a meaner stare. Both show up many times in the much-advertised “Woman In Gold”. When her young attorney,the son of a friend exclaimed that an event happened a half century ago,she eyes him incredulously and questions, “You think that is a long time?” We are drawn in with her demeanor and her carriage of a life having been lived. The remainder of the film bravely intertwines her past with the future.
This is a story of survivor’s guilt,art and music’s evocations,and Austria’s soul. Based on the true story of Maria Altmann, niece of Adele Bloch-Bauer the subject of Klimt’s portrait “Lady In Gold”, and of her dogged attorney , E. Randolph Schoenberg ( grandson of the Vienese composer, Arnold Schoenberg), who sacrificed family and job to pay homage to his ancestry.The past asking sacrifice of the present is a central theme.
Reasons to see this film besides learning about art restitution laws and adding to the genre of “less we forget” pieces would be the cast. Ryan Reynolds is so believable as he passionately prepares and delivers his Supreme Court remarks:” She came to America for peace. Let us give her justice,too.” We root for this man who began for money and finished for heart and justice. The “can of worms” imagery will delight any litigator, by the way. Katie Holmes is sweet, supportive and savvy.Helen Mirren funny and heartrendingly responsible. Her “I left them there” will bring tears to your eyes.
The music and lyrics “Mary, don’t you weep no more” is just perfect as Maria faces her ghosts. The screenplay written by Alexi Kaye Campbell is rife with understatement. Mirren delivers “The postcard doesn’t do her justice” and “I wish they would have accepted him (Hitler) to the art academy” with aplomb. Explaining the stacks of boxes in one room after her sister Louisa’s death, Mirren smiles and says “my sister moved in with me when she died.”
Gustav Klimt’s portrait of Adele introduces the film. We watch him as he prepares a section of the gold leaf to embellish his canvas.I thought this was an ingenious way to showcase the care and preparation required to produce this masterwork. Later, I considered the attorney’s verbal preparation and brief a masterwork,too. Back and forth, our understanding comes from Maria’s memories: her wedding, her aunt’s tutelage, and the most realistic foot chase scene as Nazi police try to stop Maria and her husband from fleeing Vienna.
The scenes of 1940 Vienna are extreme. Maria’s father’s cello playing,her husband’s operatic serenade, and then the humiliation of Jews made to scrub the pavement with acid, and the jack-booting Nazi parades. After 1998, a different kind of patriotism is called for, and the investigative reporter who aids their cause in Austria tries to make up for the sins of his Nazi father and his Fatherland. Again,the past is asking for something of the present lest we forget. See this film directed by Simon Curtis and remember anew.