The Woman In Gold is the inspired true story of Maria Altmann, an Austrian Jew whose family were terrorized by the Nazis. Her aunt Adele was the model for a painting called ‘Woman in gold’ created by Gustav Klimt and ever since her death, the painting has been hanging in the Belvedere gallery in Vienna. The film’s plot follows Maria trying to bring the painting home with her in hopes that she can reclaim justice for her family and be reunited with Adele.
The film opens to an eerie score and a close up of Adele being painted/orchestrated by Gustav in which she states that she is scared for the future. This statement pretty much foreshadows what will come and the struggles the family had to go through. The film explores past and present by contrasting the horrific retrospective scenes with the lighter scenes between Maria (Helen Mirren) and Randol (Ryan Reynolds). The alluring, statuesque shots of Vienna not only show off the city as a landmark of culture but also a place worthy of becoming a must-see city. Austria as a nation have always prided themselves on the importance of music and art, this is why this film does not fall flat just because it is based on a painting.
The flashback scenes do seem to be more entertaining but this is due to the tense atmosphere between the family and the pressing crackdown of Jews by the Nazi party. A particularly happy scene becomes a melancholic one as a young Maria is dancing alongside her family on her wedding day. She loses her balance and it all becomes too much for her, the camera stylistically portrays this as it whirls around Maria, showing her lost in a tailspin, scared for her future. The thrilling scenes often involve the characters escaping from the Nazis, in particular a young Gestapo officer played by Tom Schilling. For most, Tom Schilling will mean nothing to you, but he has to be one of the finest young German actors about. A film in which he played the lead (coincidentally a Nazi) actually inspired me to study film and the performance he gave then is still as fantastic as the performance he gives now, however short.
Tatiana Maslany from Orphan Black fame portrays the young Maria with a bewitching performance that evokes emotion whenever she comes on screen. It might seem like an exaggeration to some but in being honest, this film made me cry every 10 minutes. If it’s not Ryan’s character crying in a toilet cubicle or a family being ripped away from each other then it’s a long and tedious court battle where Maria has to fight against a will written by her aunt. At every turn the film is graceful and poignant with Helen Mirren’s exquisite portrayal only adding to it. Ryan Reynolds plays one of his best roles to date with the well-formed, charming charisma that he is so well known for, unlike his usual comedic roles, he plays a serious lawyer who becomes fascinated with the case. His sad eyes and determination make him not only a likeable character but also someone that we feel we can trust personally.
At times the script seems like it wasn’t written directly for the cinema screen but the actors manage to execute it without trouble, although some of the ‘jokes’ seem misplaced, ready to sue the Austrian government, a clerk mentions that he wants to visit one day because his ‘daughter loves kangaroos’. The director, Simon Curtis is probably trying to provide us with some comic relief throughout what seems like a hopeless, dreary story. But the fact is, it really isn’t any of that, I went into this screening with not much hope and came out blissfully surprised at how delicate and personal the film actually was, it was definitely the first film that has made me seriously emotional in the past couple of years. To round up, if you haven’t seen this film, book yourself a ticket and bring yourself some tissues. You’re going to need them.