Like a paint brush too big for a small canvas, films can provide wonderful ideas but have difficulty expressing the finer points within the borders of the big screen. For “Woman in Gold”, however, inside this true story of stolen art we also find a fascinating history lesson dating back to World War II. Within the fate of a treasured art piece, rests an even more powerful account of genocide at the hands of Nazi Germany and one survivor’s struggle with memories while seeking ultimate justice.
Academy Award winner Helen Mirren (2006’s “Queen”) follows up her stellar work in last year’s delightful “The Hundred-Foot Journey” with another charming and impeccable performance. As the now older Maria Altmann, Mirren’s flashbacks to her childhood in Vienna, Austria describe the gold leaf portrait of her Aunt Adele by artist Gustav Klimt. A family heirloom, the “Woman in Gold” is plundered by Nazi’s in 1938, as Austria was annexed by Hitler’s Germany.
“Woman in Gold” is an impressive story beyond just redemption and restitution. It’s a history lesson through one woman’s eyes of the death and destruction her Jewish family faced in WWII and endured over the years. As Austria’s version of the Mona Lisa in popularity, the Adele Bloch-Bauer I portrait reflects the horrendous evil Germany inflicted upon Jews—taking prized possessions that included art, fine china and jewelry. The film nicely compares and contrasts prewar Austria with post-war memories using flashbacks, legal sparring and Mirren’s amusing relationship with her attorney, affably played by Ryan Reynolds.
This film tells a story that needed to be told. From a historic perspective, “Woman in Gold” reflects upon the barbaric treatment of Jews left to flee Europe or face certain death. It illustrates the degree in which the Nazi’s destruction affected and influenced one family’s past and present. Most importantly, it offers a story of a woman and her attempt to get closure, move on with her life and still hold onto cherished family memories. And that may be this film’s most valuable collection of all.
“Woman in Gold” is rated PG-13 for some thematic elements and some brief, strong language. Its running time is 1 hour and 50 minutes.
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