Festival Review: Woman In Gold (2015)

Woman In Gold

Dramatising the legal battle over Klimt’s most famous work stolen from a Jewish family by the Nazis, Woman In Gold is a moving courtroom quest for justice.

Portrait Of A Lady

by Mark Wilshin

Woman In Gold

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

Too often overlooked by the writers of history, with Woman In Gold Simon Curtis takes on the thorny issue of the restitution of artworks stolen from the Nazis to their rightful owners. Not only does it appear mercenary, it also twists the usual trajectory of artists and art lovers donating their works to the public into what seems like individuals taking precious masterpieces out of state museums and into private hands. And yet Woman In Gold succeeds in alchemising that sordid litigation into a rightful quest for justice. It’s a typical masterclass of immigrant chutzpah from Helen Mirren, and Ryan Reynolds gives a moving performance as the born and raised American nephew that undergoes an epiphany as he returns to his family’s motherland, taking on the burden of his cultural history. But where Woman In Gold really stands out is in Maria’s flashbacks of the Anschluss, crowned by a tense escape and an incredulous, guilty, fearful, tearful flight as Maria flies away from Austria with her husband. Based on the true accounts of Maria Altmann and Randy Schoenberg, there are villains – including the smug Dreimann of the Belvedere Museum – but Woman In Gold is rigorously even-handed – with Daniel Brühl’s character, journalist Hubertus Czernin, resetting the balance of Austrian patriotism. Not dissimilar from Philomena, Woman In Gold isn’t exactly original – following that tried and tested story of plucky underdogs fighting injustice. But it’s an unexpectedly moving portrait of restitution and it’s this battle against both humiliation and the expropriation of the past that makes Woman In Gold a valuable work of art.

Woman In Gold is now showing at the 65th Berlin Film Festival

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