Maria Altman sought to regain a world famous painting of her aunt plundered by the Nazis during World War II. She did so not just to regain what was rightfully hers, but also to obtain some measure of justice for the death, destruction, and massive art theft perpetrated by the Nazis. Written by
Elyse J. Factor
Uphill Crusade to Reclaim a Family Portrait--Beauty & Truth
In Woman in Gold, Helen Mirren, chameleon-like, inhabits the body and personality of Maria Altmann, niece and heir of a prominent Jewish family in pre-WWII Vienna. The family's best-known member today is Maria's aunt Adele, whose portrait Gustav Klimt painted in 1907. The painting was appropriated during the Nazi era and for many years hung in the Austrian state's famous Belvedere Gallery, as "the Mona Lisa of Vienna." After her sister's death, Maria finds correspondence suggesting the painting was perhaps not left to the government of Austria in her aunt's will, as it claimed, and therefore not rightfully Austrian property. She hires a family friend's son, Randol Schoenberg (played by Ryan Reynolds), a young down-on-his-luck Los Angeles attorney, to look into the matter. Schoenberg, grandson of the composeranother refugee from Nazified Austriais out of touch with his family's past and slow to recognize the significance of Maria's quest. Initially unwilling to take on the case, he is gradually drawn into it. Their bureaucratic battles with stonewalling Austrian officials soon unite the pair, and they are joined by a crusading Austrian journalist, Hubertus Czernin. Formidable legal and bureaucratic hurdles stand in the way of Maria being reuniting with the painting"When you look at this painting, you see a work of art," Marie tells a reunification commission, "I see my aunt." The story is another in a long line of mostly not happy stories of stolen art works in World War II, brought to renewed public awareness by movies and books like The Monuments Men and Pictures at an Exhibition. The opportunity to reunite beloved works of art and their owners is rapidly disappearing, yet this beautifully filmed movie, directed by Simon Curtis, shows the importance of continuing these efforts. Because this film is based on a true story, and I for one remembered how it ends, a certain inevitability about the outcome guides the plot. Perhaps this is what has caused reviewers (not me!) to find it dull, though they find the actors captivating. As a result of the strong positive audience reception, the film's distributor will greatly expand its national distribution. If you like stories that touch on beauty, truth, and justice, you will like it, too!
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