Monday, June 19, 2017

A Review: "Woman in Gold"

Did Europe of the 1930's and 1940's go insane? Predominantly white Europe was, historically, the most cultured of continents. It was a continent of great literature, beautiful music, and priceless art. It was a world of the great intellects, scientists, philosophers and culture. It was a world of a political reality the Trumps and Bannons, sadly of our world, would want to rule the world but it was a continent, then, one would consider anything but civilized. It was a continent at war with innocents and innocence. In the end Germany and its Axis power allies would kill approximately 50 million human beings but the true number as the American prosecutor at Nuremberg, played by Richard Widmark in "Judgment at Nuremberg" while he showed the moving pictures of the death camps said "the real number [so huge] no one knows."

The ability to rule the world then was going to be built on nothing less than the death of democracy and the emergence of totalitarian Fascist states that paid no mind to a suffering humanity they created and about whom they cared nothing. Fascism did not pay even philosophical lip service to a goal of universal acceptance, diversity and indivisible inclusion. It did advocate for the exclusion of those whom it dictated were the "other" and it did play out its determined credo to achieving its goals by any means necessary including the invasion of innocent nations, plundering of their natural resources, and crushing the innocents among those they considered the "other." Nazis stealing the precious possessions of the "other" was the bonus it accumulated toward achieving its goal of total subjugation and annihilation of the "other." The majority "other," of course, were Europe's doomed Jews.

The "Woman in Gold" starring the great Helen Mirren is the true story of a woman's attempt to obtain justice by retrieving a priceless painting the Nazis stole from her family who were killed by them. The summary about the painting of woman in gold by Gustav Klimt is indented below taken from Wikipedia:

Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I (also called The Lady in Gold or The Woman in Gold) is a painting by Gustav Klimt, completed between 1903 and 1907. The portrait was commissioned by the sitter's husband, Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer (de), a Jewish banker and sugar producer. The painting was stolen by the Nazis in 1941 and displayed at the Österreichische Galerie Belvedere. In 2006, following eight years of effort by the Bloch-Bauer heirs, the painting was returned to the family; it was sold the same year for $135 million, at the time a record price for a painting.

The portrait is the final and most fully representative work of Klimt's golden phase. It was the first of two depictions of Adele by Klimt—the second was completed in 1912; these were two of several works by the artist that the family owned. Adele died in 1925; her will asked that the artworks by Klimt were to be left to the Galerie Belvedere, although these belonged to Ferdinand, not her. Following the Anschluss of Austria by Nazi Germany, Ferdinand fled Vienna, and made his way to Switzerland, leaving behind much of his wealth, including his large art collection. The painting was stolen by the Nazis in 1941, along with the remainder of Ferdinand's assets, after a false charge of tax evasion was made against him. The assets raised from the purported sales of artwork, property and his sugar business were offset against the tax claim. The lawyer acting on behalf of the German state gave the portrait to the Galerie Belvedere, claiming he was following the wishes Adele had made in her will. Ferdinand died in 1946; his will stated that his estate should go to his nephew and two nieces.

In 1998 Hubertus Czernin, the Austrian investigative journalist, established that the Galerie Belvedere contained several works stolen from Jewish owners in the war, and that the gallery had refused to return the art to their original owners, or to acknowledge a theft had taken place. One of Ferdinand's nieces, Maria Altmann, hired the lawyer E. Randol Schoenberg to make a claim against the gallery for the return of five works by Klimt. After a seven year legal claim, which included a hearing in front of the Supreme Court of the United States, an arbitration committee in Vienna agreed that the painting, and others, had been stolen from the family and that it should be returned to Altmann. It was sold to the businessman and art collector Ronald Lauder, who placed the work in the Neue Galerie, the New York-based gallery he co-founded.

This is a film about a small act of justice for a woman and a people who received no justice. It is one woman's attempt with her young attorney in America to achieve justice for her family and her even if it meant returning to Austria, a place she loathed, to walk down a torturous memory lane. Fighting for those valuable paintings was not an easy task but a necessary one. She was ready to stop the attempt but through her attorney's grit, sense of justice and, perhaps, his own desire to return to the living what he could not return to the dead, the legal attempt to return the art work continued. Vengeance was his and hers for the moment and his determination to achieve one small act of justice continued. Within seven years she would see justice prevail and perhaps lessen a bit the survivor's guilt she felt.

Justice in the form of this painting no matter how valuable could ever replace the millions of lives brutally taken or bring back the victims of the Nazi Holocaust to those who still mourn their loss but it was one small symbolic satisfaction for those who lost everything at the hands of armies of jackboots who had everything and what they did not have stole the rest. The painting, in the end, was justice given to Maria Altmann and the family she left behind, whom she loved but could not save.

Maria Altmann's attorney gave 7 million toward a new building at the Los Angeles Holocaust Museum. He said that he "tried to do good things with the money" and he did. Maria Altman died in 2011 at the age of 94. May she rest in peace for her family who knew no peace and may that painting stand as a testament to life against death, justice against injustice and love against hate so that we, the living may never repeat humanity's sins of our tortured historical past. I gave this film a 10-star review.


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