Looking for a movie to watch over spring break that doesn’t include clichéd car races or unnecessary explosions? Look no further! Woman in Gold, a film directed by Simon Curtis and starring Helen Mirren, Ryan Reynolds, and Daniel Brühl, makes its debut on April 3.
Woman in Gold is a film centered around the ownership dispute of arguably the most famous painting by Austrian artist Gustav Klimt, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I. Helen Mirren stars as Maria Altmann, an octogenarian Austrian-Jewish woman who fled to the United States when the Nazis took over Austria. She also just so happens to be the niece of the subject of the painting, Adele Bloch-Bauer. The Nazis seized the painting and up until the point where the film picks up, it had been hanging in the Belvedere Gallery in Vienna. Ryan Reynolds is lawyer Randol Schoenberg who agrees to take Ms. Altmann’s case despite insurmountable odds. At one point in the trailer, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I is likened to “the Mona Lisa of Austria,” highlighting the impossibility of Schoenberg and Altmann’s success in winning their court case against the Austrian government for ownership rights.
Why all the fuss?, you might ask. Doesn’t art belong to the world? Well, the Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I was originally commissioned by Maria’s uncle for her aunt, not for a gallery (according to Wikipedia and IMDB). Her aunt’s will is buried somewhere in governmental archives. And according to the will of her uncle (who died after her aunt and thus had ownership last), the painting was to go to his next of kin—Maria and her siblings. So Maria believes that the painting is rightfully hers. In the trailer, Maria says that the Nazis “took everything” from her, and the return of the painting would be the beginning of “justice” for her and her family.
The film raises interesting questions about the private and public ownership of art. In addition, it brings up a little-known fact about the Nazi government, also discussed during last year’s film The Monuments Men: the Nazis confiscated all kinds of art. The pieces they found exemplary of the supposed artistic “superiority” of the Germanic race were seized to be showcased in a special museum, the fate decreed for Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I. Other pieces of art by both Germans and non-Germans that was found “lacking”—i.e., those that did not conform to the tastes of the higher-ups in the Nazi government—were either destroyed or publicly shamed in a propagandistic “Degenerate Art” exhibition in 1937. So Woman in Gold touches not only on unjust ownership claims, but on art’s importance as a political tool and crimes against the larger human community as a whole.
So if you’re looking for a film that will make you think, do yourself a favor and go see Woman in Gold. It premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival, it’s directed by Simon Curtis (who won critical acclaim for his last film, My Week with Marilyn), and boasts a more-than-stellar cast.
Catch the trailer here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=geJeX6iIlO0
Does art belong to the people? Governments? Private individuals or institutions? Let us know what you think in the comments below!