During Hitler’s invasion across Europe, Nazi Soldiers looted the homes of Jewish families, many of whom either escaped their countries or went to the death camps. In some cases, losses included significant works of art. Ownership of these works was often falsified and after the war, they were appropriated as objects of war crimes.
Simon Curtis’s Woman in Gold is such a story about Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren) who seeks to recover a painting of her Aunt Adele, by the well-known Austrian artist Gustav Klimt. Because Altman’s ownership of the work has been erased, the painting finds its way into a national gallery in Vienna, where it becomes favored by Austrians as “their Mona Lisa.”
In 1998, Maria (who has re-established herself in Southern California) hires a young lawyer, Randol Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds) to represent her interests. Randol becomes an underdog character against the court system, while Mirren is an individual seeking not only a family treasure, but also the past she lost.
The film is carried by a web of cinematic jumps between the 1940s and 1998. One layer of the narrative is about bureaucracy, the legal system, the loss of identity and possessions that unfolds through courtroom drama. But within another layer is a personal story that unfolds through cycling flashbacks of Pre-Occupation Vienna, where the most gut-wrenching tragedy of the 1940s casts a shadow of irony over the cool-handed legal system Maria and Randol must navigate in the 1990s.
What does not unfold as intricately is the dense bureaucracy of the legal system, which is positioned here as a monolith of cruel nationalism, without its confusing and contradicting maze of loopholes. In this case, how does a painting of such importance migrate from its post-war recovery to the wall of a national gallery without the suggestion of an attempt to contact the rightful owner? Faced with this opposition, Altman and and Schoenberg slug their way through it all as melodramatic heroic characters often do.
If you know much about World War II and the history of the Holocaust, Woman in Gold will be a moving film — well crafted and well-acted, rich with historical detail; but the film is also predictable. It contains many lessons of struggle leading to social justice told in an ordinary way.
Check it out: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2404425/