Directed by: Simon Curtis | 109 minutes | drama | Actors: Helen Mirren, Ryan Reynolds, Daniel Brühl, Katie Holmes, Tatiana Maslany, Max Irons, Charles Dance, Antje Traue, Elizabeth McGovern, Jonathan Pryce, Frances FIsher, Moritz Bleibtreu, Tom Schilling, Allan Corduner, Henry Goodman, Nina Kunzendorf
Was it purely for her to do the money? In the movie “Woman in Gold” (2015), Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren) claims not. Yet you cannot always contain the thought of Altmann as a money grubber. This is mainly because director Simon Curtis (“My Week with Marilyn”, 2011) is unable to fully explore the emotional relationship between Altmann and her aunt immortalized by Gustav Klimt. Mirren does her best to give space to that emotion, but does not quite succeed. What are we talking about? In the late 1990s, the state of Austria was sued by the now very elderly Altmann. She tried to reclaim five works of art from Klimt through the court. Works of art that she believed were still owned by her family. The Austrian government, which had exhibited the paintings in the Vienna Galerie Belvedere for years because they believed that the works should not be hidden from the art-loving public, invoked a will which stated that Altmann’s uncle de Klimts was at the state had failed. Who was right?
The lawsuit is central to “Woman in Gold”. Altmann, who had exchanged Austria for the United States after World War II and portrayed by Mirren as a stubborn and resolute old lady, is supported in her fight for justice by the young lawyer E. Randol Schönberg (Ryan Reynolds), just like she is an American. with Austrian roots and also from a prominent family (he is the grandson of composer Arnold Schönberg). “She’s the Mona Lisa of Austria, do you think they just let her go?” he rightly questions when Altmann approaches him to help her. Anyone who expects “Woman in Gold” to be merely a courtroom drama is wrong. The return to her birthplace in Vienna brings back some painful memories in Maria. Memories of the Second World War, in which it was formed. She is one of the few in her family who managed to escape the Nazis. Her unresolved trauma has brought her to the point where she wants to confront her past for the very last time in order to bring about the only form of justice left for her: to reclaim her family’s paintings. In particular, the iconic gold-encrusted “Portrait of Adèle Bloch-Bauer I”, her aunt, which was stolen by the Nazis after the war.
Simon Curtis’ main source is E. Randol Schönberg’s book and the director follows his guideline quite closely. The emphasis is therefore on the lawsuit, so that less attention seems to have been paid to the flashbacks. Of course it all looks beautiful (although you can question the choice of the color scheme) – in the scenes set in Vienna, German is even spoken! – but in terms of depth, the necessary opportunities have been missed. Curtis walks the easy path of sentiment, overplaying his hand with it several times and, moreover, does not seem to take his viewers really seriously. What happened in World War II really does not need to be explained in detail; most people know. Incidentally, the young Altmann is played by Tatiana Maslany, who, like Mirren, cannot be blamed for not being able to convince the film completely. This also applies to almost the entire cast; only Ryan Reynolds creates a flat and one-sided figure. But just let him pull the cart next to Mirren …
Altmann’s story is ideal for a feature film and Helen Mirren is an actress who always delivers rock-solid work. “Woman in Gold” is certainly not a bad movie, but you can’t help thinking that Curtis got rid of it too easily. The film knows nothing to surprise, responds to the easy sentiment, goes on too long here and there and leaves too many questions unanswered. Not everything has to be chewed up – preferably not even – but if a film offers too few leads, then as a director you should not expect to leave your audience with a satisfied feeling.