A Dazzling Restitution

Woman in Gold

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Director: Simon Curtis

Cast: Helen Mirren, Ryan Reynolds, Katie Holmes, Daniel Bruhl, Jonathan Pryce, Frances Fisher, Max Irons, Elizabeth McGovern, Charles Dance, Tatiana Maslany, Moritz Bleibtreu

My Week with Marilyn director Simon Curtis, follows up the success of that film with the brilliant Woman in Gold about art restitution based on a true account of how Maria Altmann an Austrian refugee fought to get Gustav Klimt’s famous and dazzling portrait of her aunt, Woman in Gold restored to her as the rightful owner after it was illegally seized by the Nazi’s in Vienna during the rise of the Third Reich in Europe.

Oscar winner Helen Mirren (The Queen) heads up an eclectic cast as Maria Altmann who approaches a young lawyer also of Austrian descent, Randy Schoenberg wonderfully played by Ryan Reynolds in one of his best screen performances to date to take on the Austrian government in reclaiming the gorgeous painting, which is in fact a family heirloom, now hanging in the Belvedere gallery in Vienna, Austria.

Woman in Gold is set in 1998 in Los Angeles with frequent flashbacks to the late 1930’s in Vienna which also charts the daring escape of young Maria, boldly played by Tatiana Maslany and her fiancé played by Max Irons (The Riot Club) from the Nazi’s who eventually flee to America, leaving her parents and all their wealth and possessions behind.

Director Simon Curtis deals with the thorny and sensitive issue of Art restitution in a nuanced and intelligent way which gives balance to both sides of this deeply complex case. Like George Clooney’s Monument’s Men which dealt also with the Nazi’s sacking Europe of its artistic treasures, Woman in Gold specifically focuses on this case and the exquisite painting Woman in Gold by the illustrious Austrian Cubist artist Gustav Klimt, which is like the Mona Lisa of Austria and a sign of national identity.

The fact that the value of the painting is worth well over R100 million dollars also adds impetus to Randy’s fight but more than that is the emotional toll it takes on both characters as they fight for justice amidst contemporary bigotry and the rightful ownership of a hugely recognizable painting.

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Woman in Gold is ably assisted by a wonderful supporting cast including Daniel Bruhl (Rush), Katie Holmes (Pieces of April), Frances Fisher (The Lincoln Lawyer, Titanic), Charles Dance (White Mischief) and Jonathan Pryce (Carrington, Tomorrow Never Dies) but it is essentially held together by the superb performances of Mirren and Reynolds who despite their age difference make the film a fun, informative and deeply emotional quest to correctly addresses the wrongs of the past, in the name of art restitution and justice.

The fact that the international legal fight goes to the Supreme Court, which takes both Schoenberg and Altmann to Washington DC raises the level of the film along with the apparent assistance of the heir to the Estee Lauder fortune.

Woman in Gold is a fascinating, must see film for art lovers, and lovers of intelligent historical films which addresses a very topical and complex issue of restitution, which in this case dazzles with beauty. Highly recommended viewing.

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