Opening 4 Jun 2015
Imagine that you once had a loving family, a beautiful home filled with beautiful objects d’art that had a deep connection to your life and history. And then imagine that one day all of this was taken away from you by not only a terrible, military force, but also by the complicit acceptance of all of your neighbors. That is what happened to Maria Altman (Helen Mirren) during World War II. Her family was Jewish, living in Vienna, and in the end not only did she lose her friends and family, but also everything she ever owned. Later, she discovered that some of her family’s personal portraits, which had been stolen during the war and never seen again, were hanging in Vienna’s Belvedere Museum. They were not just hanging there either. One in particular, Woman in Gold, a picture of her aunt, was being used as a symbol of the country. It was then that she decided to try reclaim her ownership. It seems pretty straightforward, but in truth it was anything but, for the Nazis may be gone from Austria, but they have been replaced by something not much better: Bureaucrats.
The film has been accused of being too mainstream, forcing feelings upon the audience, and overlooking the complexities of the case at hand. And indeed, there is definitely some truth to these accusations. For what film featuring Ryan Reynolds as a lawyer could not be the definition of mainstream and simplistic? And any film about World War II at this point is guaranteed to feel like being force-fed emotions. However, there is a point where one must ask if these things always mean that a film is terrible, and the answer to that is no. Woman in Gold might not be artistic enough for a film festival, but it is interesting and entertaining nevertheless.
That some critics are complaining that the film is nuanced enough is ridiculous. The Belvedere got ahold of the Altman family paintings through criminal actions. They were stolen from their home while half of the family was murdered and the other half escaped into exile. These actions were done with the complicit help of many Austrians, and the very fact that the Austrian government would fight so hard to keep the ownership of these painting under such circumstances is the epitome of injustice. That there is argument that the film is too heavy-handed in its approach is ridiculous. There is no nuance in such a situation, and the fact that there are arguments about that shows just how difficult the situation continues to be for the family of those wronged during the war to get back what is rightfully theirs. (Rose Finlay)