Thursday, March 26, 2015


Directed by Simon Curtis. Starring Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds.

WOMAN IN GOLD tells a story that most of us may not know. The level of that ignorance is nicely conveyed by a brief moment midway through the story when a young attorney (Ryan Reynolds) registers a law suit against the country of Austria to restore a famous painting to its rightful owner, Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren). “Austria?” replies the law clerk to the attorney’s request; “my daughter is a big fan of kangaroos!”

The famous painting?—it’s by Gustav Klimt (1862-1918), once the leading Austrian painter during the Vienna Secession’s revolt against academic art. “Portrait of Adele” is one of two portraits Klimt executed in 1908 of Maria’s aunt, a young beauty named Adele Bloch-Bauer. The son of a goldsmith, Klimt perfected his so-called “golden style” in its overwhelming decorative surface, a dazzling interplay of figurative portraiture, a profusion of jewel-like shapes, and a wealth of golden stamping. Once the property of the Altmann family, it was stolen by the Nazis and after the war ensconsed in the Belvedere Palace in Vienna. And there it remained, until more than sixty years later, when Maria Altmann determined to reclaim what she insisted was rightfully hers.

I saw WOMAN IN GOLD one day after enduring the new Will Farrell vehicle, GET HARD. Both demonstrate Hollywood at its extremes. Within 24 hours, I went from “Get Hard” to “Get the Painting”! And both films, in a weird way, are similar: Each conveys an atrocity. GET HARD foists its tasteless, sophomoric humor onto a hapless public. WOMAN IN GOLD depicts the Nazis’s wholesale theft of European art works (a subject recently chronicled in the wonderful RAPE OF EUROPA documentary and in the execrable George Clooney feature, MONUMENT MEN).

I might quibble at some of the simplifications in the story and some of the formulaic political maneuvering that balances the “bad” Austrians intent on retaining possession of the painting with a few “good” Austrians that asist Maria in her quest to take it to America. . . But no, I prefer to applaud its cultural referents that include the backstory of the painting itself and some generous quotations of classical music, including a few minutes of “Verklaerte Nacht,” an early piece by the famous grandfather of Maria’s attorney, Randol Schoenberg. Mirren, of course, is terrific, and so are Daniel Bruehl as the “good” Austrian and, in the flashback sequences, the great Allan Corduner as Maria’s father. Ryan Reynolds and Katie Holmes are along for the ride.

So. . . don’t “get hard” but instead “get thee" to THE WOMAN IN GOLD...

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