Posted by : Stephanie | April 15, 2015
Well now I really really don’t want to go to Vienna anymore! I went to see Woman in Gold because I’m going on my first-ever trip to Austria this year, but after a grueling 109 minutes reliving its Nazi-lovin’ complicity, I’m like waltz was I thinking, you know?
Woman in Gold is the true story, based on a thickly researched book called The Lady in Gold by Anne-Marie O’Connor, of the injustices suffered by the rightful owner of one of the world’s most famous paintings, Gustav Klimt’s resplendent Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer. It’s the thinking woman’s Monuments Men. Jk! No less a crucial story about the cultural/ human Holocaust, Woman in Gold may be even more emotional than the former because it zeroes in on a shameful period in the life of just one work of art.
History stripped, ripped, stolen and repurposed.
Argh. My mother and I went to the movie together and were just a mess afterwards. Two Jewish women in the audience, we cried the entire time. We literally felt the horrors and savage humiliations of our people. We’re not even of Austrian descent, we’re Russian. Our ancestry is straight-up Fiddler on the Roof pogroms (unless you think my last name Block was once Bloch and my foremothers were high class, Viennese art patronesses???).
I’m glad I read the book first. It had the space to paint a much richer portrait of the storied lives of the prosperous Jewish intelligentsia in fin de siècle Vienna (wow what a rip-roaring time! Like 1920’s Paris or Warhol-era New York!). They were titled, successful, living in gorgeous city palaces. Their parlors were full of masterworks and the genius figures who composed, painted and wrote them, regularly entertaining the most exciting pioneers of the day like Freud, Mahler, Twain, and that bad boy sex machine Klimt. He was in all their drawing rooms AND bedrooms wink wink. A glittering age of discovery, experimentation, art, love, beauty and syphilis. The book points out that it was the Jewish elite, not quite as staid as the local aristocrats, who saw merit in becoming patrons of ‘upstarts’ like Klimt and his contemporaries, thus many of Klimt’s portraits are of upperclass Viennese Jews.
Then it all came crashing down violently. And a Nazi-pilfered painitng, a portrait of a Jewish Viennese heiress in gilded finery, winds up having its provenance Aryan white-washed and re-enters society as the Mona Lisa of Austria, representing everything the country stands for and definitely-not-a-portrait-of-a-Jew-pinky-swear. Darkly ironic, nein?
[Spoilers if it’s news to you that the Klimt in question hangs in NYC’s Neue Galerie as well as in many college dorm rooms]
Enter Helen Mirren‘s badass character, the niece of Adele Bloch-Bauer, now in her nineties and living in the US. She’s going to fucking sue Austria to get her painting back. She’s going to fight every fucking mid-level insufferable bureaucrat hellbent on keeping that Klimt, the pride of Austria, now worth over $100 million dollars, in their country. Not only is that painting rightfully hers, but she seeks to somehow piece together her shattered family, the parents she left behind under Nazi occupation, the neighbors who turned on them, the government that turned their back on them. But you know what? Not even the most sublime work of art can make up for that.
Woman in Gold is amazing. I’m not the biggest Ryan Reynolds fan, I’m sort of lukewarm on him, but he’s fantastic as Helen Mirren’s young attorney. He wasn’t sexy; he wasn’t action-y. He was just really good as the character he embodies. He delivers a great performance and lets his natural leading-man masculinity take a back seat to the story he needs to tell. Shout outs also to cameos from the great Charles Dance (aka Sardo Numpsa!), creep-tastic Jonathan Pryce, and omg that’s Jeremy Irons’s son??? He’s gooooorrrrgeous, this Max Irons! And the fabulous Ludger Pistor as a hate-able Austrian bureaucrat.
My only ding on this movie is the writing for the character played by Katie Holmes (hasn’t she suffered enough from Scientology re: stuff we learned about in that documentary?). The worst character is Nazis, obvi, but the second worst character is her one-dimensional wifey character. If it weren’t for the tour de force, complex performances from Helen Mirren, Tatiana Maslany as war-era Helen Mirren, and Antje Traue as Adele Bloch-Bauer herself, I’d cry sexist! I mean the script is so juicy and umami for women’s roles, so what happened with this throw-away wife-bot character??
Example: You’re sitting in a dark theater with your mom bawling your eyes out as Nazi poison oozes through Vienna, when suddenly the scene cuts to casa Ryan Reynolds having a domestic chat. Katie Holmes is all oh hai my water just broke, but you go to DC to fight your case in front of the Supreme Court, honey. I’m totes fine giving birth alone. Tra-la-la wifey out! And PS “pregnant” wife character is stick thin, and I mean rail thin, except for a baby bump prop like from a middle school play. LOLZ
But not LOLZ how these simpering interstitials punctuate cinema’s most poignant moments, from Nazi flashbacks to Austria’s smug-faced functionaries trying to rip apart Helen Mirren at every turn. For fuck’s sakes. What’s the point of them? To show his, what, human side? The human side of Ryan Reynolds is doing fine thank you very much as a champion of justice fucking fighting Austrian war pillagers. Hello!
Otherwise, the movie’s a triumph. The power of the story, the backbone of the magnificent research in the book, and the fabulous acting yield true cinematic gold. Woman in Gold is priceless. I’m glad I saw it; I wish none of it had ever happened. I wish with all my heart that Helen Mirren’s character still lived in her beautiful home in Vienna with her father playing his cello and the Klimt portrait of her aunt still hanging above their fireplace. Gayly sipping Schnapps as the gentle snow falls outside their wide drawing room windows. No drama. The End.
So I guess hooray for a sort of semi-justice of how she got her painting back but not her original life? Like, hey Austria it’s cool you did the right thing in the end after you were kinda forced to but sorta chose to. PS when I come there, pls don’t steal my stuff and claim it’s yours. Kthanxbai.
RATING: 4 1/2 out of 5 people named Bloch or Block
Tags: Adele Bloch-Bauer, Anne-Marie O'Connor, Antje Traue, art restitution, Austria, Charles Dance, Freud, Gustav Klimt, helen mirren, Hitler, Holocaust, Jonathan Pryce, Katie Holmes, Klimt, Lauder, Ludger Pistor, Mahler, Mark Twain, Max Irons, Nazi, Nazis, Neue Galerie, restitution, Ryan Reynolds, s5, Sardo Numpsa, Tatiana Maslany, The Golden Child, The Lady in Gold, Vienna, Woman in Gold