Woman in Gold: A Movie Review

Thursday, April 16th, 2015

When I lived in Israel in 1973-1974, I spent time in a bomb shelter during the Yom Kippor War in the fall of 1973. One day the warning sirens blared three times and I was more scared than I care to remember. Then, in the spring, while in my apartment on the kibbutz, a siren went off and I jumped, thinking it was a warning to go to a shelter, but I was wrong. It was a warning to stop what we were doing and have a minute of silence to honor the 6,ooo,ooo Jews who died in the Holocaust. It was not a  warning to seek shelter, but rather an announcement commemorating Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom HaShoah).

I was wondering how to fit this information into my website when I went to see Helen Mirren in Woman in Gold, a movie based on the true story of how her character, Maria Altmann, was able to retrieve family paintings (one of which was a portrait of her Aunt Adele) by Gustav Klimt that were stolen by the Nazis from her parents’ home after Maria escaped to America with her husband. Reviewing this emotionally-packed movie on my website was the perfect way to honor this day while praising the movie.

When I Googled the movie, I read a negative review that I felt was unfair. (spectator.co.uk) Yes, it is emotionally moving, but I do not think it was manipulative, as the writer portrays. And I did not think at the end, “Oh good, it’s over,” as the author also notes. And while I first saw a parallel between this movie and Philomena, any resemblance soon faded as the movie progressed.

The movie shifts back and forth from the present (starting in 1998) to the past with the Nazi takeover in Austria, the country of birth for Altmann and her family. The Woman in Gold portrait is actually Maria’a Aunt Adele, who died quite young. Maria’s friend’s son is the lawyer, also with roots in Austria and a descendent of composer Arnold Schoenberg, who helps Maria Altmann regain the pictures.

There were parts I did not want to watch, when the movie flashed back to German soldiers deriding Jews or humiliating them. But the movie had my undivided attention otherwise. The acting was superb, the scenes filmed in Austria were beautiful, and the whole feel of the movie was authentic, if not somewhat romanticized because it is a movie, after all.

The release nearly coincides with Holocaust Remembrance Day which is Thursday, April 16th. On that day I plan to stop what I am doing during the day and have a minute of silence for all the innocent victims, Jews and non-Jews,  who perished under Nazi Germany. It is the least we can do in the name of Peace and will remind me of the first time I heard the siren in Israel in 1974 and feel glad to be alive!

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