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Monday, July 6, 2015

'Woman in Gold' DVD & BD: Establishing Golden Rule for Art Restitution

Product Details
[EDITORS' NOTE: Unreal TV ran an interview with "Gold" director Simon Curtis in July 2015.]

The Weinstein Company film "Woman in Gold," which is out on VOD and is being released on DVD and Blu-Ray on July 7 2015, entertains while educating. The Blu-Ray version excellently shows the nice scenery in Los Angeles and the magnificent images of Vienna. You clearly see that the latter is spectacular.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of the trailer for "Gold" nicely illustrates the drama and humor of the film as well as the Weinsteinness of the production. Unintentional humor relates to the blatantly showing the lack of even an award nomination any time in the career of one of lead. It is ass the stars are Meryl Streep, Al Pacino, and Justine  Bateman.

This true story of Austrian-American Maria Altmann literally taking on the government of Austria in the '90s to recover the titular Nazi-seized portrait goes beyond discussing the well-known violent antisemitism of that era and the slightly lesser-known effort to reunite the owners of seized artworks with their property to provide an easily digestible lesson on the applicable principles of international law.

"Gold" starts with a series of genuine coincidences that seem to come from the mind of a Hollywood screenwriter. The recent death of the sister of Maria gets her thinking both of the Klimt portrait of her beloved aunt Adele and of a desire to recover it from the Belvedere Museum in Vienna where it has hung since the war ended. One spoiler that illustrates the educational elements of "Gold" is that we learn that Austrian museums regularly made questionable mutually beneficial deals with Nazis infollowing the end of the war.

The triggered memories prompt Maria to contact struggling attorney Randol Schoenberg, who is the grandson of the Austrian composer of the same name and the son of a life-long friend of Maria. An initially reluctant Randol accompanies Maria to Vienna to get evidence to bolster her claim to the portrait and other family artwork, to present her case to the Viennese agency that considers such claims, and to speak at a conference that promotes art restitution.

This visit further triggers well-presented flashbacks for Maria, who has not returned to Austria since her daring 1938 daytime escape. The filmmakers depict the Nazi humiliation and other despicable abuse of Jewish people without resorting to uber-violent images and booming orchestral music. These artists wisely acknowledge that a 2015 audience knows of those atrocities. This nicely illustrates that recovering ill-gotten Nazi loot requires far more than showing ownership of the possessions at the time of the seizure.

Other elements of the backstory are that the portrait around which the controversy revolves is now a national Austrian treasure, and that the Belvedere has documentation that supports its ownership claim independent of that museum acquiring that art through the Nazis.

In both reel life and real life, the controversy ends up in front of the United States Supreme Court. Segments in this scene regarding Randol freezing while presenting his case and the federal government making an absurd international relations argument provides some of the best humor in the film.

The nature of the Maria/Randol relationship, the objective of this"odd couple," and the casting of Helen Mirren and Ryan "Berg/Hal Jordan" Reynolds in the roles screams for comparing "Gold" with the 2013 Judi Dench/Steve Coogan film "Philomena." The latter, which is also based on actual events. has a woman of mature years involve a journalist in her search for her adult son that a convent required that she give up within minutes of giving birth to him. Both films do their subjects justice and wisely cast true British treasures in the lead.

Mirren deserves great praise for portraying the many moods of Maria with her usual understated elegance. She also makes you feel that you are watching Maria, rather than Mirren. The only flaw in her performance is that the Austrian accent is not so strong at any time and often slips into her dialect as "The Queen." At the same time, the spectacular talent of Mirren and her genuinely awesome nature require overlooking the aforementioned imperfection.

For his part, Reynolds does a nice job in this role that does not have him playing his typical goofball. His acting is appropriate for the part of a low-key attorney.

Max Irons, who is the son of Jeremy Irons, deserves special mention for his excellent job in the small role as the young husband of the young Maria. Assuming that he actually does his singing, he has an incredible voice. He further portrays his character as someone whom you would want to literally have your back when facing peril.

The home video special features include the trailer for the documentary "Stealing Klimt," which depicts the story of Maria. We also get good images of the real Maria from "Klimt" in the excellent "making of" special feature. This one additionally has wonderful insights from Mirren, Reynolds, "Gold" director Simon Curtis, and the real-life Randol (who does not resemble Reynolds).

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Gold" is strongly encouraged to email me. You can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.