Gustav Klimt: Portrait of Adele Bloch Bauer I

Movie Review: Woman in Gold

A couple of weeks ago I watched Woman in Gold. I saw it on Netflix. I highly recommend this timely film, which is based on a true story.

The film is based on the true story of Maria Altmann, an elderly Jewish refugee living in Cheviot Hills, Los Angeles, who, together with her young lawyer, Randy Schoenberg [yes, grandson of the famous composer], fought the government of Austria for almost a decade to reclaim Gustav Klimt’s iconic painting of her aunt, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, which was stolen from her relatives by the Nazis in Vienna just prior to World War II. Altmann took her legal battle all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States, which ruled on the case Republic of Austria v. Altmann (2004).

— Source: Wikipedia

For me the film spoke to a time and a place when people were scapegoating their problems on others. But worse than what the Nazi’s did was the complicity of good people, people who stood by and allowed the wrong to go unchecked. I say it was worse because had good people risen up and said “No! We will not tolerate this injustice!” just perhaps fewer innocent people would have been murdered and/or robbed.

I found it repulsive that the modern day Austrian government, knowing full well the truth of the matter, continued to choose to participate in and perpetuate this Nazi atrocity these many decades after World War II—all the way into the 21st century! Claiming the portrait had come to represent Austria, they didn’t want to give it up.

The truth? It was worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Are we no better than this?! Greed! Pure, simple: greed. Theft.

Gustav Klimt: Portrait of Adele Bloch Bauer I
Gustav Klimt: Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I

Personally, I find importance in calling the portrait by its correct name: Adele Bloch-Bauer. The Nazi’s renamed it: Woman in Gold to obfuscate the fact that it is a portrait of a jewish woman, Adele Bloch Bauer. It is now commonly called Portrait of Adele Bloch Bauer I because Adele Bloch-Bauer is the only model Klimt ever painted twice.

Well, the story has a happy ending. Maria Altmann gets her property back before she dies in February, 2011, at the aged of 94. The producers took some historical liberties with the story. Maria Altmann sold some of her family heirlooms/treasures (paintings by Klimt), fetching almost half a billion dollars! But the story should be a timely, cautionary tale for us today in the United States.

The film is beautiful: staging, scenery, and cinematography. Dame Helen Lydia Mirren, who plays the elderly Maria Altmann, presents a magnificent and convincing performance. And, while the film received mixed reviews, if you’re looking for something to watch, I recommend Woman in Gold.


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