This weekend, I want to see “Woman in Gold” directed by Simon Curtis, starring Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds with supporting roles by Katie Holmes and Daniel Brühl with Tatiana Maslany playing the young Maria and Max Irons as her husband Fritz. Helen Mirren does a fabulous job, as usual. While she continues to play the role of a proper and tough old bird, she was able to play this one with a slight Austrian and light humored twist. Ryan Reynolds actually is impressive in this role showing subtlety and some depth of character. While most of the screen time of the supporting roles were short, they were universally strong. One of the things I love about the film is that it dealt with issues such as Nazi’s, hate, being ripped out of your family and the world you love head on without becoming depressing. We were given a sense of what it might have been like to have your world upturned as the world turns against you and takes all that you have. People’s fear and hate separates families, attempts to degrade their humanity, and, often, kills them. The film, however, does not dwell on our depravity. Rather, it uses that history to enrich, educate, and move the storytelling along. Clearly this movie was not meant to be a documentary; it was meant to engage us emotionally in the challenges of this Austrian Jewish refugee and her lawyer. It is a story of the efforts that we go through to maintain the status quo, no matter what and the challenges in changing that. While there were clearly morals we were supposed to draw from the story, it did not seem to use a hammer to nail them into our heads. Rather it allowed the story to make its own plea to our conscience. All in all, I think it deftly rode that fine line between entertaining storytelling and making a point. I thoroughly enjoyed all of it: the visuals, the acting, and the world into which we were drawn.
One particular aspect of cinematic brilliance was Mr. Curtis’ method of handling Maria’s memories. We’ve seen lots of cinematic attempts at portraying trips down memory lane. When Maria is drawn into a memory, it is handled in a beautifully organic way where the present slowly moves and melds into the past or sometimes the past comes up abruptly around the corner. You have that sense, however, that the past is always with her but there are times when it becomes more present. Where those memories impose themselves on her current vision and we have an opportunity to share that with her in the film. I think it’s probably the best way I’ve seen evoking past memories in a film.
While I didn’t look at many reviews of this movie I was taken by surprise by Peter Debruge’s review in Variety suggesting that Woman in Gold was heavy-handed because it didn’t portray both sides of the story. It narrowly-mindedly took Marie Altmann’s side of the story. Now, I can see someone saying it was a bit heavy-handed in its morals, that it wore them out on its sleeve. To say, however, that it wasn’t balanced enough simply seems to misunderstand its point. This isn’t a documentary with balanced journalism, this is storytelling. Now while I’m sure it hopes to be accurate, it is engaging us emotionally in this woman’s and her lawyer’s journey, not trying to provide a neutral article about the case of this particular art restitution. I do not personally know a lot about this case. It does strike me that the Nazis came in, took her family’s home and took everything they owned. I don’t know that that is in dispute. Hence, I’m not sure I’m deeply worried about presenting equal sides when their stuff was taken from them by the Nazis. Also, I don’t know if this particular element of the film was accurate, but it appears that Maria offers to allow the gallery to hang onto the paintings as long as they admit the wrong. They declined. If that’s accurate my sympathy Wayne’s. So I saw that is simply a bizarre response to a non-documentary movie engaging us on this issue.