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Maria Altmann, an octogenarian Jewish refugee, takes on the Austrian government to recover a world famous painting of her aunt plundered by the Nazis during World War II, she believes rightfully belongs to her family. She did so not just to regain what was rightfully hers, but also to obtain some measure of justice for the death, destruction, and massive art theft perpetrated by the Nazis.

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Woman in Gold movie full length review - A brilliant telling of the harrowing true story of the Klimt painting

This is one of the best-crafted cinematic accounts of a true story which I have seen. Director Simon Curtis proved earlier that he was a brilliant director with his MY WEEK WITH MARILYN (2011, see my review), and here he outdoes himself.

He chose the perfect, and possibly the only, actress to portray Maria Altmann, whose heroic story of loss and retrieval this is. Helen Mirren is a famous British actress who is not entirely British. Her real name is Mironoff, because her father was a Russian exile. She therefore knows more about how to be a convincing foreigner than most actresses. The film is really the story of Gustav Klimt's famous portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, which is covered in gold leaf and is a work of art of the kind today described by the term 'iconic' (in this case, considering that the gold leaf somewhat resembles the solid gold riza of a sacred Russian icon, the term 'iconic' is for once less a product of trendy terminological innovation than an accurate description). Adele Bloch-Bauer was the aunt of Maria Altmann. They were a rich Jewish family in Vienna. Maria, her husband, and her sister fled Austria to escape the Nazis, and narrowly succeeded in reaching the safety of America, where they lived for the rest of their lives. The film shows both contemporary events and the events of the Viennese story, interweaved as Maria's memories. The film is well constructed, with an excellent screenplay by Alexi Kaye Campbell (his first), who had the active assistance of E. Randol Schoenberg (Arnold Schoenberg's grandson and also a refugee from Vienna) whose friendship with and assistance of Maria gives us the other major character in the story. Schoenberg is wonderfully played by Ryan Reynolds. The Nazis seized all of the possessions of Maria's family including a Holbein and five Klimt paintings, of which the famous portrait was the main one. The five Klimts ended by a devious and circuitous route in a Viennese art museum, where the portrait became 'iconic' for the entire Austrian people, and was even considered to represent 'the heart of the Austrian people'. Nothing could be more ironic than that, since the painting was of a Jewess, and no people anywhere in Europe welcomed Hitler with more enthusiasm and persecuted their Jews with greater energy and glee than the Austrians. I have often heard it said that Austria is still the most anti-Semitic country in the Western world. When Hitler entered Vienna in the Anschluss, there were delirious crowds shouting with joy lining all the streets, waving swastikas and practically fainting with joy. Hitler himself was an Austrian, not a German, it should be remembered, and his real surname was Schickelgrueber, as Hans Habe discovered when he got hold of a copy of Hitler's birth certificate and fled Austria with it in his possession, with the Gestapo hot on his heels; the Hitlers were the family of Hitler's mother, and they were a part-Jewish rustic Austrian country family. It has always seemed to me that Hitler's fanatical determination to annihilate the 'taint' of the Jews was really a psychological projection, and was an outward manifestation of his manic desire to extirpate the 'taint' of his own Jewish blood. By destroying the Jews, he may have wished to destroy the Jew within himself, such being his crazed reasoning. (Goebbels also appears to have been part-Jewish, and certainly looked it.) The film shows very well the outrageous corruption, conspiracy and hypocrisy of the modern Austrian officials who try every trick in the book to prevent Maria from using the restitution law to reclaim the Klimt paintings, despite the clear proof that they are hers by right as the last remaining direct heir of the original owners. Her struggle against all the odds over many years is portrayed in the most graphic detail, and with considerable dramatic effect, Helen Mirren is of course magnificent as Maria. The film is deeply moving, and also consists of an excellent exposé of the Austrian mindset which Maria faced. The film is a genuine saga, gripping, tragic, sad, but also in the end triumphant. This is what is called 'a very human story', but it portrays inhumanity very well also, and not just that of the 1940s. The tale is a perfect example of how hard one has to struggle for justice against all the corrupt forces which prevail everywhere. There is even a scene where Maria has to go to the American Supreme Court as part of her struggle. But it is always worth the effort, for by such struggles we affirm our refusal to accept evil, and we must always oppose it, at whatever cost to ourselves. But that cost is often so high. For there is no easy way to oppose evil, and it cannot be done from an armchair.