"How's my German?," asked British actor Allan Corduner who plays Gustav Bloch-Bauer in the film Woman in Gold. He's Maria Altmann's father, in flashback to pre-war and Nazi occupied Vienna, when she was a young woman who managed to escape. Helen Mirren plays Maria's older version, and they had only one scene together, when Maria, in a time close to the present, walks through the magnificent apartment she was forced to leave, seeing the ghosts of her murdered family in their glory. As stories evoking the terrible history of the Holocaust go, this one, based on true events, has a fairy tale happy ending, as Maria Altmann with her lawyer, E. Randol Schoenberg, grandson of the famed composer Arnold Schoenberg, take on the Austrian government to claim paintings by Gustav Klimt, stolen, like much property owned by Jews.
The restitution of Klimt's "Woman in Gold" to its rightful heir is a story of justice won, and a up-yours to Holocaust deniers and those who continue to enact violence against Jews and other peoples who value human life. Helen Mirren is superb in this role, an Everywoman, as Austrian refugee with elegance and moxie. Ryan Reynolds plays Schoenberg with bungling charm. This is his best performance to date. What is exceptionally winning in this film is its appeal to the highest personal and national ideals, a reminder that it is always worthwhile to stand up against evil. In this case, the Hollywood formula works without diminishing the importance of the subject.
After its premiere screening this week at MoMA, well-wishers headed north to the Neue Galerie to see Maria Altmann's aunt as she was depicted by Klimt. The painting, "Woman in Gold" is on permanent view there, a condition of its sale to Ronald Lauder's foundation. There, sipping champagne and sampling schnitzel and spaetze, delicacies from the museum's Café Sabarsky, the Bloch-Bauer/ Altmann heirs mingled with director Simon Curtis, Mirren on a night off from her wonderful dramatic take on the queen in The Audience on Broadway, Max Irons, Corduner, and many others, who were sneaking upstairs to take a look at the excellent Egon Schiele exhibit. Many of Maria Altmann's heirs spoke about what was true and what was dramatized in Woman in Gold, but for all, the movie's feel-good victory was genuine.
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.