Thursday, April 9, 2015

Woman In Gold

Nazi Art Thieves at Work
Director: Simon Curtis

Cast: Helen Mirren, Ryan Reynolds, Allan Corduner, Daniel Bruhl, Katie Holmes, Elizabeth McGovern, Charles Dance, Max Irons, Tatiana Maslany, Jonathan Pryce, Frances Fisher, Moritz Bleibtreu

Review by James Colt Harrison

Woman in Gold, one of the world’s most famous paintings produced by Austrian artist Gustav Klimt (1862 – 1918) was the inspiration for the title of the movie. The correct title of the painting is Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer. Based on a true story with a script written by Alexi Kaye Campbell and E. Randol Schoenberg (and his life story as well), the film stars the formidable British actress and Oscar® nominee Helen Mirren. She plays the real-life Jewish refugee Maria Altman who is attempting to get her family’s art work returned that had been stolen by the Nazi’s during World War II.

Klimt’s painting of Ms. Altman’s aunt Adele, which ultimately became the famous Portrait of Adele Boch-Bauer, was part of his Golden Period in which he mixed paint with gold leaf, thus giving the painting the world-reknown glitter effect. Klimt’s style was a mixture of the Art Nouveau period and the Arts & Crafts style. His art was popular in the very early 20th Century when he painted them around 1908.

As Mrs. Altman, we expect no less of Mirren than a stellar acting performance, and she delivers. The wizards in the makeup and costume departments have transformed Mirren into an octogenarian Jewish lady of some substance and education. She plays Altman with some restraint throughout most of the film, but she rises to indignation and strength in the scenes where it is needed. Her determination to right a terrible wrong made during World War II is deftly achieved by the flawless Mirren.

Her story, and subsequently the story of the creation of the painting, is done with the judicial use of flashbacks. Altman is played as a young girl of 19 by the pretty Tatiana Maslany. Maria sees no way out of the inevitable takeover of Austria by the Nazis. She must leave for the United States with her new husband, played by the handsome British actor Max Irons (son of Jeremy Irons).

Maria’s father is played with verve and authority by the wonderful British actor Allan Corduner, who must speak all of his lines in flawless German. Corduner shows just the right amount of love and pride for his daughter. But he knows she must flee to save her life. Corduner is incredibly touching in a silent scene when they must separate. Using only his expressive eyes and slightly quivering lips, Corduner’s performance is heart-breaking and very nearly overwhelmingly sad when he realizes they will never see each other again. Corduner has one of those rare career-moments when he steals the picture.

In order to help her with the authorities who can retrieve her artwork, Altman hires young American attorney E. Randol Schoenberg (author of the script. He is also the grandson of world famous composer Arnold Schoenberg). He is a green young man who is smart and broke. Altman figures his inexperience could be a plus because he knows no boundaries. Ryan Reynolds is correct for the part, being young, handsome, personable, and appears inexperienced and naive as a lawyer. This film will put Reynolds a notch higher in the leading men category in films.

Altman and Schoenberg run into many obstacles, not the least of which is the Belvedere Museum in Vienna holds possession of the famous painting and is reluctant to let it go. Although there is no great mystery in the story, director Simon Curtis guides Mirren to be a formidable and determined woman when she knows she’s right. Reynold’s lawyer Schoenberg gets fired up and unstoppable when he finds clues that are all in their favor. The painting is in plain sight, but the ownership is greatly in question. Therein lies some of the film’s mystery---who owns it and who will inherit it?

Art lovers will enjoy this quest to find the rightful owners of some of the sensational art of the Klimt Art Nouveau period. It may also trigger painful memories of those unfortunate Jewish people who were ravaged by the vicious Nazi regime and stripped of their artifacts. It was a hateful period during World War II. Mirren, Reynolds and Corduner help bring back that period with style, grace and chutzpa!

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