Maria Altman, the principal character wonderfully acted by Helen Mirren in ‘Woman in Gold’ is a Holocaust survivor. At some point in the film she gives a public speech where she traces the origin of the word ‘restitution’ to a Latin term which means restoration to original condition. Today’s Wikipedia further clarifies: ‘The general rule, as the principle implies, is that the amount of compensation awarded should put the successful plaintiff in the position he or she would have been had the tortuous action not been committed.’ At the top layer of the story ‘Woman in Gold’ is about the restitution of a work of art, the fabulous ‘Portrait of Adele Bloch Bauer’, one of the masterpieces of Gustav Klimt and of the Austrian art to the successors of the rightful owners, Jews from whom the work was confiscated and who perished in the Holocaust. Deeper it asks the question whether the true restitution is ever possible. Returning to the original condition of the Jewish life in Europe after the Holocaust? The answer given by the film is a definite ‘No’. Restitution of art may be possible. Restitution of the broken human lives is not.





The story has many elements of docu-drama and is largely based on a true story of a legal battle held in the last years of the 20th century between a Holocaust survivor from Los Angeles helped by a young and idealistic lawyer and the government of Austria. The combination of the BBC and Hollywood production of the Weinstein studios did not leave too much room for cinematographic invention, and director Simon Curtis did not add too much on this respect. The successive sequences of the legal battle may have been close or remote from the actual truth, but they were not terribly interesting even for the fans of the courtroom movies. The schematic depiction of the Austrians as bureaucratic bad guys, as well as the idealization of the American justice system did not add too much either. The gold in the ‘Woman in Gold’ lies somewhere else.


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First, acting of Helen Mirren is superb. She’s one of these few actors who leave me lacking words. After each great role that she makes I declare that she is at her peak, and then in the next movie she reaches another higher one. Same here. To say that she deserves an Academy Award for this role seems too pale a compliment. Part of my family comes from that part of the world and has similar origin. She is like one of them.

Her role is however more than this. She gives a face to the Holocaust, she makes me understand the human dimension of the tragedy that the generation of my parents went through. That part of the film, the flashbacks that bring back to her mind the memories of the lost happiness, the brutality and vulgarity of the change, the tragedy of leaving the parents back, the determination to survive, the refusal to look back, the decision to end being silent – all these are very well described, and they make of ‘Woman in Gold’ one of the important movies about the Holocaust.

Ryan Reynolds is a miscast. Tatiana Maslany on the other hand is a splendid young Maria. In its good moments and there are many of them ‘Woman in Gold’ is a ‘must see’ film.