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Woman in Gold: A Work of Art

Posted by cfeehan on July 13, 2015

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How would you feel if your worst enemies stormed into your house uninvited, talked down to you and your family, and proceeded to steal your most precious belongings while you could do nothing but watch? This is exactly what happened to many Jewish families during the Second World War, and it is what happened to Maria Altmann, a Jewish refugee who fled from Austria to America during the war. She, unlike many others, was lucky enough to get out alive. The movie Woman in Gold revolves around Maria who, after decades of silence, finally decides to take a stand and seek justice for her family.

After her sister’s death, Jewish refugee Maria Altmann, played by Helen Mirren, discovers that “Woman in Gold”, a famous painting of her aunt that is residing at the Belvedere in Austria, rightfully belongs to her family. She needs a lawyer, so she immediately hires a family friend named Randy Schoenberg, played by Ryan Reynolds. He begins to work on her case, and the pair faces incredible odds to get the painting back. It’s an emotional ride, complete with wartime flashbacks from Maria’s point of view.

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The Woman in Gold painting, also titled Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I. Source: Gustav Klimt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Helen Mirren does a fantastic job as Maria Altmann. She’s spunky, she’s determined, and she’s fighting for a cause that any audience member is persuaded to side with by the end. She knows what she wants and she’s going to get it, no matter what. Ryan Reynolds plays lawyer Randy Schoenberg very well, despite the fact that it’s an atypical role for him. He is very likable, and becomes even more so as the film progresses and he becomes more confident and invested in the case. Another actress I have to comment on is Tatiana Maslany, a Canadian actress who played Maria as a young woman in her flashbacks. She had the difficult task of taking on the more heart-wrenching parts of the film, and she did it perfectly. Her character was so believable, and she captured a range of emotions effortlessly – from acute fear and sorrow to the blissful euphoria of her wedding day. The casting was done very well, and I may be a bit biased, but I really like that it was heavily Canadian! (In case you didn’t know, Ryan Reynolds is also from Vancouver.)

What I really appreciate about the movie is its apparent adherence to the true story. The Austrian Parliament really had just passed a law requiring museums to allow researchers to explore their archives in order to get stolen items back to their rightful owners. This law is what helped move Maria’s case along, both in the movie and in real life. In addition, Nazis really did march right into Maria’s home in Austria and take her family’s belongings. Her family’s extensive art collection, her father’s cello – even the diamond necklace worn by her aunt in the painting – were all stolen. Just as the film depicted, the necklace actually was given as a gift to the wife of Hermann Göring, a leading member of the Nazi party! There are many more aspects of the film that adhere to the true story, but I don’t want to give too much away. Check out this article after watching the movie to learn more. (Warning - contains spoilers!)

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Maria Altmann, 2010. By Gregorcollins (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

Another thing I loved about the movie was the use of flashbacks. They effectively revealed Maria’s struggle in Austria as a young woman, and caused the audience to connect with her emotionally. Some of the scenes, such as the one where the Nazis come in and start stealing things off the walls, are upsetting beyond belief. It’s hard for me, as someone who hasn’t gone through this type of tragedy, to even imagine the type of pain and anger that this would bring about in a person, but I can tell you one thing – it made me really passionate about Maria winning her case. This deep emotional connection causes the audience to root for her not for trivial factors like monetary gain, but in order to regain the respect that she and her family deserves.

This movie was a great mix of young and old, past and present, and sadness and delight. It captured multiple eras and cultures, but it did so in a way that was easy to follow and connect with. The historical aspect of the movie was extensively interesting because of its relative cinematic rarity, and truly made me want to learn more about Holocaust art restitution. My final word of advice is to make sure that you have English subtitles turned on when you watch this movie – the subplot gets completely lost if you don’t, because it’s spoken entirely in German! I would highly recommend this movie not only to history buffs, but to anyone looking for an empowering story of restoration and justice.

You can find Woman in Gold on Execulink’s VOD channel (ch.100) from July 7th to August 6th, 2015.

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Caitlin Feehan, Blogger & Editor


Converse have been my footwear of choice for the past 9 years, I’m convinced that all doors and sidewalks are conspiring against me, and I enjoy sticking my head out of the passenger window on long car rides.