‘Woman in Gold’ – Movie Review

The Hotel Sacher, one of the movie's settings in Vienna

The Hotel Sacher, one of the movie's settings in Vienna

By Jonathan Spira on 20 April 2015
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“Woman in Gold” is a film I approached seeing with trepidation. There are several reasons for this.

First, the lines, “They destroyed my family. They killed my friends. They forced me to abandon the people and the places that I loved,” could have been written about my family’s experience. My father left Vienna in the Kindertransport after the Anschluß, and his parents left the city as well.

Second, I continue to be involved in the restitution process with the Austrian government on behalf of my family.

Third, I partially grew up in the city that is the subject of the film, Vienna, spending my early summers there.

However, I digress…

The story revolves around an elderly Viennese widow, Maria Altmann (masterfully portrayed by Helen Mirren) who left Austria after the Anschluß with her opera-singer husband. Her late aunt, Adele Bloch-Bauer, was the subject of a 1907 Gustav Klimt portrait that had hung in the family’s living room. It was confiscated by the National Socialists and was on display in Schloß Belvedere after the war. The painting is currently valued at over $100 million.

The Austrians claimed that Bloch-Bauer had left the painting to the government, specifically to hang in Schloß Belvedere, in her will. After the death of her sister, Maria finds letters in her sister’s belongings that cast doubt on the Austrians’ claim and she engages a friend’s son, Randol Schoenberg (portrayed by Ryan Reynolds), who is a lawyer, to investigate the matter.

While the film lacks the intrigue of To Kill a Mockingbird or even Perry Mason, the scenes going back to Maria’s childhood add texture to the story and the scenes portraying how the National Socialists treated Vienna’s Jews are heart-wrenching and accurate.

Mirren is a credible Viennese widow (by appearance and speech, she reminds me of my own Viennese widow grandmother) and her Austrian-accented English was quite good. Some of the Viennese characters in the film spoke German with a reasonably authentic Viennese accent while others sounded a bit fresh out of Berlitz, but few in the audience will notice this.

The movie takes a little while to gain its stride, but it’s better late than never in this case..

Despite what largely amounts to trite dialogue, Mirren’s stellar performance and appearances by Daniel Brühl, who plays “good Austrian” Hubertus Czernin, a journalist who attempts to make up for the misdeeds of his Nazi father by helping Altmann & Co. with their restitution efforts, tell an important story that should never be forgotten.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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