This is the true story of Maria Altmann, an Austrian Jew, who escaped to the United States shortly after the Nazi takeover, and decades later sought reparation for 5 Gustav Klimt paintings that had belonged to her family, stolen from them by the Nazis. One of these was known as the Woman in Gold, but Maria knew it as a painting of her aunt, commissioned by her father, and hung in their living room in Austria. When her older sister dies, Maria discovers letters showing failed attempts to retrieve the paintings. She enlists the help of the son of a friend, a lawyer named Randy Schoenberg, who begins the process of applying for restoration.
This story is a single microcosm, a kind of continuing story of the Monuments Men, but giving it the wrenching truth of the impact of the Nazis on Jewish families in Austria. It is beautiful orchestrated to show both the fear and bravery of an old woman who, though she thought she would never return to the horrors of her young adult memories of life after the Nazis, takes that step to try to obtain justice by reclaiming that which rightfully belonged to her family. The flashbacks throughout are meshed with her present as she remembers her house, her aunt (who was like a 2nd mother to her), outings for ice cream with her, her own wedding celebration, and then house arrest, her ill father, the daring escape to Cologne and then across the border and on to the United States. She’s an observer to her own past, yet part of the scene and recognized. It’s cleverly done.
The committee is mostly for show, and even during the proceedings, Maria has a nasty confrontation with an Austrian citizen. When she loses her bid, in Austria, she’s ready to give up but Randy (Ryan Reynolds) keeps going, aided by a crusading journalist played by Daniel Brühl. He originally went into it for the money, but something happened to him at the Holocaust Museum, and he renews his efforts, quits his job at the law firm, and finds a loophole. The young Maria (played by Canadian actress Tatiana Maslany) and her husband (Max Irons) are delightful at their wedding where he, an opera star, sings Mozart to her and they dance along with everyone there to celebrate. This scene is shown twice. The first time, it ends in chaotic movements to represent the change that is about to happen. When it is played at the end of the movie, it flows beautifully, peacefully, to represent the settling of the past.
The sets are exquisitely done and convey the wealth and taste of the family and show the wonderful architecture of Austria. I’m not going to spoil it for you, but this is a poignant story in a beautiful and touching film. It is well-acted and a great story. Even if it weren’t, it would be worth seeing just to watch Helen Mirren. * * * * *