I stand here and smile on the gallery wall,
Watching the patrons who stare and pass on,
And sometimes the curator comes in to call
To boast of my grace and my era long gone.

I’m used to the gaze of dispassionate eyes,
But I once adorned a more intimate wall
When I was a gift, not a national prize,
A visage of somebody few now recall.

Not many remember my former abode,
But my memory, like my smile, never dies,
Corrupt men and hatred marked that episode
That stole me away as mere rare merchandise.

Suppose me content with my grace and my smile
After what I have seen on my difficult road?
I won’t be content until we reconcile.
I wait for my family; to them I am owed.

MPAA rating: PG-13


Woman in Gold may be the most underrated drama of 2015. Reviews were mixed, and its two award-worthy performances have been pretty much ignored by any of the awards, aside from a single SAG nomination for Helen Mirren. While everyone has their own personal grumble about the Academy’s choices, this one is mine. Woman in Gold deserves so much better.

The film’s greatest assets are its two appealing leads, played by Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds. Mirren is Maria Altman, an elegant grandmother who fled Nazi Germany as a young newlywed and now wishes to reclaim a painting she left behind, Gustave Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, otherwise known as The Woman in Gold. The problem is that, while Maria sees it as a fond portrait of her late aunt, the nation of Austria guards it as a national treasure, their own Mona Lisa. That’s where Reynolds’ Randy Schoenberg comes in, a less-than-successful lawyer whose familial connections trump the fact that he knows nothing of art restitution cases. Together, the old lady and the bookish attorney make an unlikely team against Austria and the injustice of the past.

Many films have touched upon the Nazis’ forced appropriation of great artwork, from 1964’s The Train to 2014’s The Monuments Men, but rarely do these films present the personal cost of those crimes. They weren’t just stealing valuables, but precious antiques and family heirlooms. Art isn’t exactly my favorite subject, and Woman in Gold could have come off as just some stuffy lady wanting back what’s hers; instead, flashbacks to Maria’s life in Vienna elucidate just how much these treasures meant to her, not merely because of their monetary value but because of their memory and affection that only she can fully understand. It’s personal, and the film translates that fact effectively.

Mirren is a brilliant Maria with her grandmotherly concerns and dry wit, but when the long road to restitution takes its toll, Reynolds’ Randy steps up to keep the crusade going. Randy lives in the shadow of his judge father and famous composer grandfather, and when pushed to look into Maria’s case, he decides to give it his all, right up to the overwhelming challenge of the Supreme Court. As the case moves forward, it’s clear that it’s personal for Randy too, and visits to Vienna reinforce the importance of his Jewish-German heritage.

Woman in Gold also features welcome smaller roles from Daniel Bruhl, Frances Farmer, and Jonathan Pryce and a witty, at times tense screenplay that bounces nicely between past and present. With all these positives, why then has the film been snubbed? Perhaps because the pacing lags at times or because it isn’t entirely historically accurate. Neither of these faults bothered me, and the historical deviations don’t seem to bother the real Randy Schoenberg, who was interviewed for the film’s bonus features. Woman in Gold turns a legal battle over art into a personal underdog story, and by the Titanic-style ending, my VC was in tears and I wasn’t far behind.

Best line: (ignorant court house employee) “I want to go to Austria sometime with my daughter. She loves kangaroos!”


Rank: List-Worthy


© 2016 S. G. Liput

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