Stories from World War II are aplenty, whether from the perspective of the Nazis or an account from a Jewish person, yet there are even more countless untold ones, some which never get to see the light of day.

Based on the true story of the late Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren), a Holocaust survivor who lived in Los Angeles, Woman In Gold is one such extraordinary tale. Together with young lawyer Randol Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds), they fought for the reclamation of an iconic painting of her aunt, Portrait of Adele Block-Bauer I, which was made of gold.

Veteran actress Mirren plays out the life story of Maria in her late 80s. While moving her aunt Adele Bloch-Bauer’s possessions into her home, she is stirred by the memory of Adele and recalls a famous painting that would complement the rest of the items. A young lawyer is enlisted to help her find where and how she can retrieve the painting, and thus begins the odd friendship that the pair forms over the years while they take legal action.

Mirren’s portrayal of Maria is utterly convincing; her performance is simply splendid! From a great desire to put her mind at ease to being discouraged from further pursuing the matter due to a complicated legal process, the life of Maria in her final years is flawlessly translated onscreen. Through an array of emotions that clearly reflect her feelings at specific points in time, Mirren is in a class of her own. On the other hand, Canadian actress Tatiana Maslany nicely complements Mirren’s efforts as the younger Maria during the Nazi period.

As her lawyer and eventual friend, Randol comes across as initially hesitant to follow up on Maria’s predicament. In spite of the difficulty, he refuses to be dismayed and eventually drops everything to fully focus on her case. Reynolds as the amateur lawyer sheds light on the working life in a law firm and risks that arise from taking up clients with unusual cases. Nonetheless, the court proceedings and law terminology are laid out in layman terms for general audience understanding, any sarcasm of which is made explicit and alleviates the film’s serious tone.

British director Simon Curtis helms this drama effectively, giving ample time and space to the development of characters in both time frames. He balances plot structure through rhythmic editing, showcasing both eras and ensuring consistency in pacing. With two different actresses playing the same character, the 1940s with the Nazis is differentiated from modern day by black-and-white imagery. And at the end of it all, Curtis prolongs the poignant moments, making very sure that you will sympathise for Maria.

Ultimately, the film depicts the day-to-day situation of Jewish people, where they face discrimination in their lives. Told from the perspective of Maria in her younger days until she fled Austria to reach North America, Woman In Gold heralds the story of many other Jewish families whose works of art were mercilessly stolen from their possession by the Nazis. It paints the fine picture of one single woman’s journey as she attempts to retrieve paintings that are representative of her family, the only memory of which is not haunted by her dark past.

Woman In Gold opens in theatres 27 August 2015

Directed by: Simon Curtis
Genre: Drama
Running time: 109 minutes
Rating: 4/5 stars

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