Woman in Gold (2015) Review
Plot: Maria Altmann engages in a legal battle with the Austrian Government for the restitution of the famous Adele painting by Klimt which had been taken from her family home during WW2.
Director: Simon Curtis
Cast: Helen Mirren, Ryan Reynolds, Daniel Brühl, Katie Holmes, Tatiana Maslany, Max Irons, Elizabeth McGovern, Jonathan Pryce.
Woman in Gold is a 2015 drama film about Maria Altmann’s personal story. She started a legal battle to reclaim the painting of her aunt Adele that belonged to her family and had been seized by the Nazis during their occupation of Austria.
The story starts in the present day where we see Maria (Helen Mirren) trying to contact the young lawyer Randol Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds), who specialises in the restitution of stolen artwork, to help her with the case. In their first attempt to ensure the restitution of the painting to Maria, the pair, along with the Austrian investigative journalist Hubertus Czernin (Daniel Brühl), seem to be unsuccessful, but Randy’s knowledge of the law and Hubertus’s precious help will eventually turn the tables in Maria’s favour.
Although the cast was brilliant, I must say the film was a bit over the top in my opinion, and it didn’t handle this controversial case very well. Maria comes across as strong-minded and focused on her goal, but she also seems quite heartless and cold. Although the director shows us some of her memories from her past in Vienna, and her pain for the loss of her friends and family, she doesn’t really seem to care for them in the end. Her dialogue with Randy after her sister’s death is to me proof of this: she doesn’t seem so moved or even touched by the event, which made identifying with her difficult. I don’t know whether the portrayal of Maria is true to her real character or not, but it must be said that, while watching the film, I found myself questioning Maria’s real interest in the painting. Even more so, when I did some research and I found out that Mrs Altman sold the painting of her aunt for $135 million. In reality, Maria obtained five paintings of which only two portrayed her aunt Adele. I thought that her campaign to get the painting was more to prove a point and make Austria aware of its past mistakes, rather than for her family’s remembrance and legacy. It could seem a bit harsh but Maria gave me the impression of being way too greedy. The director Simon Curtis didn’t stick to the facts and didn’t include the other paintings in the story, to make the film more faithful to the actual case.
Another minus point of the film was Randy’s speech at the end. I will not spoil it for you, but he reminds the Court of the past mistakes of Austria, once again enforcing my idea that it was more about a personal revenge against the government than anything else. I found it altogether very cliché. Surely it would have been more useful if she had stopped this nonsensical battle and had left the paintings hang in the Austrian State Gallery for future generations to see? Since she cared so much for the young and her main concern was that they would not want to forget the past and the mistakes that were made; why not keep those paintings in Austria? Clearly it was the best country to host them – not to mention that it was her aunt’s wish for the paintings to stay there – but still, she wanted to make her point and therefore she didn’t care about anything else other than that. I could go on listing what I thought to be inaccuracies in the way this thorny story was handled, but I’ll leave it to your own judgement.
In the end this film had more faults than merits. To be honest, one of its merits lies in the choice of the casting. Helen Mirren was very believable as Miss Atlmann and I especially enjoyed the ending scene. Ryan Reynolds was also quite surprisingly good as the young lawyer Randol Schoenberg. Possibly the best parts were the flashbacks in which we also see the past story of young Maria (Tatiana Maslany) and her husband Fritz (Max Irons) facing the racial laws in Nazi Austria in the late thirties. Another plus was Max Irons – it was a surprise to see him in a role different from anything he has done before.
I'm particularly passionate about British and German cinema, and I'm a sucker for a good old war film.