"Everything in creation has its appointed painter or poet and remains in bondage like the princess in the fairy tale 'til its appropriate liberator comes to set it free." ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
Woman in Gold is a film that ask that art itself be set free from the horrible realities of hatred and war. Click through for my review of the film.
This weekend many people will be celebrating two major holidays, Easter and Passover. Both holidays, though separated by thousands of years, deal with the heartbreak of exodus. For Easter it was a man's exodus from our world and to those that believe a confirmation of his being more than a man and not limited by the world. Passover is about a people gaining freedom from an oppressive ruler. Neither of these holidays are present in this film, but it does combine these two exoduses. Justly Woman in Gold is split into two sections, flashbacks with Tatiana Maslany as young Maria Altmann and current day with Helen Mirren as octogenarian Maria. Helen is fighting to set free the art work that was stolen by the Nazi from her family's home and possession. She's also fighting to release the burden of those left behind, her loving parents. Woman in Gold gives equal highlight to each time frame and thusly allows the audience to understand the horrible length of thievery that has happened. The Nazi's stole millions of $ of art and homely possessions from the Jews they evicted, imprisoned and eventually tried to exterminate.
The painting behind Helen Mirren (Maria Altmann) and Ryan Reynolds (Randol Schoenberg) is the Woman In Gold. A painting of Maria's aunt Adele Bloch-Bauer by artists Gustav Klimt. This dazzling painting is one of the more valuable pieces ever stolen and Director Simon Curtis does a magnificent job of showcasing not only it's beauty but allowing his two female leads to have their own golden aura. Helen Mirren is flawless as the quick-witted Maria looking to use her remaining years to reuniting her family's legacy through the return of the paintings the government of Austria illegally purchased from the Nazis. She clashes with those government officials and yet warms to her two helpful male confidants. Ryan Reynolds plays the lawyer Randol Schoenberg. He doesn't stand out when opposite of the dynamic Helen, but in his isolated moments, and those with Katie Holmes, we see a thoughtful performance. Daniel Bruhl sneaks in and out of his scenes like a mysterious ninja who always seems to save the day.
The film has a unique pace that is really highlighted by beautiful cinematography. The great landscapes of LA and Vienna seem almost paired because of the terrific shots of the skylines. But the architecture is also highlighted. Whether it's a lovely steeple in Beverly Hills or the majestic Galerie Belvedere. The interiors of the home are also wonderfully shot and of course the reveal of the Woman In Gold painting is a real treat. But the subtle homely feel of other shots also are perfectly filmed.
The legal battle itself went all the way to the Supreme Court. Luckily the film does a great job of making the months and years of legal struggle flow quickly along. Overall though the modern set time frame segments are all about the amazing performance by Helen Mirren. She's as riveting as the golden painting that set forth this long exodus journey.
The flashback sequences are handled with a real respect and thus their presence makes the film much more important. We witness the subtle humiliations that Jews felt from their neighbors and so called friends. The wealth of the elite Jews of Vienna are shown. We see the magnificent home, the amazing parties and the extravagant lifestyle of the upper class. The film does a great job of keeping the flashbacks true emotional quality hidden behind all that shiny gold. As the family sees it's world change so do we and that is a refreshing element of the movie. An honest look at how the were systematically torn down and beaten into nothing. But it's in these flashbacks that we also witness the most emotionally driven moments of the film. They save the most heartbreaking of moments till the very end.
Tatiana Maslany showcases her own amazing scene stealing talents. We've seen all the numerous "faces" of Tatiana in Orphan Black, but her choice in playing young Maria allows us to see her ability to become a strong real person. She starts out innocent and naive, but as the Nazi's terrible boots are at the door we witness Maria tackling her fear. The suspenseful nature of the flashbacks continue to escalate as Tatiana continues to overcome her fears. A tremendous performance that mirrors the strength in Helen Mirren's wonderful performance. Max Irons (Fritz) is a nice treat as his quiet stoic nature is perfectly captured. Allan Corduner (Gustav) gives one of the more unique performances. We see the sad reality of Gustav's stubborn nature as the family stays way to long in Vienna. In contrast Allan's breakdown in the final flashback sequence is the films' most heart wrenching moment. Tatiana and Allan are absolutely riveting in this final farewell. This moment is the flashback that Helen Mirren's older Maria is what I was hinting at with my original imagery of Jesus at Easter. The parents final sacrifice is the most important moment in Maria's life…until she final wins back the painting and thus the freedom of her family's legacy.
The best film so far this year is Woman In Gold. With a script by Alexa Kaye Campbell and two amazing performances from Helen and Tatiana this film should highlight the amazing will of strong women. Maria and Adele would be most proud.