Helen Mirren launches Woman in Gold into the stratosphere. It is based on the true story of a Jewish woman who fled Austria as a little girl just ahead of the worst of the Nazi terror. When the film opens Maria Altmann is an eightysomething widow and owner of a high-end dress shop in Los Angeles. She begins a campaign for the return of a looted painting of her aunt by Gustav Klimt. Aside from being considered an artistic masterpiece, its value is enhanced by gold leaf Klimt applied to the canvas.
The Austrians refuse to acknowledge Altmann’s claim and remain headblind about their complicity in the atrocities. She engages the services of Randy Schoenberg, a young and inexperienced lawyer played by Ryan Reynolds, to fight for the return of her family’s property. Mirren is by turns steely and vulnerable, angry and mournful. He is at first adamant and then overwhelmed. She makes her point early in the film. At the Austria border, the guard sees her papers. He says, Oh, you speak German. She replies, “I prefer not to.”
The scenes of the days preceding the arrival of the Nazis are appealing – Altmann’s family was wealthy and cultured. Their contributions to society make one wonder at the advances that would have occurred without the arrival of the thugs.
Woman in Gold also raises the question why Altmann and Schoenberg thought they could prevail against a regime that remains locked in denial about its past. The film answers in the triumph of right.
A minor note: I want the wardrobe the designers created for Helen Mirren.