By Brooke Ferber
This summer, I acquired a new favorite film: Woman in Gold. The film tells the fact-based story of Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren), a Jewish, Austrian-American Holocaust survivor. Throughout the movie, Maria reflects upon the Nazi’s attempt to steal a cherished Gustav Klimt portrait of her Aunt Adele, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I (also known as Woman in Gold), thereby depriving her of her identity.Over time, the painting ends up in a national Austrian gallery, effectively becoming a piece of Austrian culture. Despite that, the perseverance of Maria and her lawyer, Randy Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds), brings the Austrian government to court. Through arbitration, the painting is ultimately returned to Maria. Victorious, Maria sells her painting to Ronald Lauder on the condition that the painting must be permanently displayed as it is—at the Neue Gallery for German and Austrian Art in New York City.
The highly moving film conveys the concept that history is very much alive. Randy, a dynamic character, initially exhibits indifference to Maria’s interest to preserve her family legacy; however, after experiencing the complicated and emotional process of winning back the painting, he becomes interested in his own highly sensitive family history. In this fashion, the film champions ideas of family and remembrance.
The painting itself perfectly complements the messages of the film. Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I is beautifully constructed of gold, which enhances the film’s representation of Maria’s nurturing Aunt Adele, who is the subject of the painting. In a way, this beautiful essence of the painting is evocative of Maria’s pre-Nazi lifestyle; her desire to win back the painting can be related to her wishes to commemorate her old lifestyle and certainly her family. I find these desires to be relatable and time-transcendent.
After watching Woman in Gold, I found a new appreciation for the Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I at the Neue Galerie. It is an exceptionally engaging cultural and artistic experience that I highly recommend.