April 14, 2015

‘Woman in Gold’ … it’s about justice. And remembrance.


Some critics panned it. But this is a good film. Not spectacular. Not award winning. But really good. The film makes a sensitive and historically authentic story available to all of us. This is a true story about art restitution. It may have been over simplified but it is such a good story that it trumps whatever cinematic flaws the critics point out.

Helen Mirren’s performance as Maria Altmann is reliable and well-executed. She conveys an underlying sense of respect for the character she portrays. As well she should, because this historical film allows the audience to glimpse a holocaust survivor’s quest to regain the art that was stolen by the Nazi regime from her family in Austria in the early days of World War II. One particular painting is the focus of Ms. Altmann’s quest.

The painting, “Adele” by Gustav Klimt, is a portrait of Ms. Altmann’s beloved aunt, Adele Bloch-Bauer. It came to be called, “Woman in Gold” because of the plethora of gold leaf embellishments Klimt used. It was described in the film as “Austria’s Mona Lisa,” and was housed at the public art gallery in Austria and became a symbol of Austrian identity. Ms. Altmann wants it back.

Ryan Reynolds is the young, freshly minted, attorney who takes her case. His dogged determination borders on obsession to see this case through. During one exchange with his client, he’s inspired by her rationale of remembrance—keeping the story of her family alive. He is also inspired by her quest for justice.

Seeing this film in Easter Week one can’t but help hear the words, “do this in remembrance of me,” in keeping the story alive of the Christian family. And one might recall the words of John Dominic Crossan, author and theologian. He sees the bible as beginning to end a story of God’s preference for justice.

The story of restitution and resistance to justice comprise the backbone of the film. But the relationships and love for ancestral family, the pain of leaving them under duress in Austria and the memories, shown in excellent flashbacks, arise as Ms. Altmann reluctantly travels back to regain the painting and seek a sliver of justice for the atrocities to dignity and beauty. The film shows us a very personal side of the holocaust and reminds us of the still unrecovered art stolen from Jewish households by the Nazis.

If you have not read the story online, don’t. See the movie. Then do your research. This is wonderful story of remembrance, justice, personal growth and overcoming obstacles.
So if Crossan is right and God’s preference is justice, it is likely that this is the kind of story God would want us to share.

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