Reliving Holocaust in search of justice

Helen Mirren plays the Jewish woman bent on recovering her aunt's painting seized by the Nazis, with help from Ryan Reynolds, the eager lawyer.
Helen Mirren plays the Jewish woman bent on recovering her aunt's painting seized by the Nazis, with help from Ryan Reynolds, the eager lawyer.PHOTO: GOLDEN VILLAGE PICTURES

It was recently reported that the trauma suffered by Holocaust survivors can be passed on to their children. The ordeal was so devastating that it fundamentally altered them at some genetic level and the distress continued to echo in their offspring.

While Maria managed to escape the horrors of the concentration camps, she saw her family torn apart, her home looted and her neighbours and acquaintances turning on Jews.

Embarking on a mission to recover her family's painting means that she has to relive the painful past, but she does it "for justice and so people remember".

Mirren (The Queen, 2006), illustrious member of British acting royalty, slips easily into the role with a central European accent and a sometimes terse demeanour which masks an underlying vulnerability.

Reynolds, in a regular dramatic role as opposed to a glossy effects-filled flick such as Green Lantern (2011), starts out as an obedient Jewish boy doing his mother a favour by listening to Maria's story.



    109 minutes/Opens tomorrow/ 3.5 stars

    THE STORY: Woman In Gold refers to a famous painting by Gustav Klimt that hung in the Belvedere Palace in Austria after World War II. To Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren and Tatiana Maslany), it is a depiction of her beloved aunt Adele that was unlawfully seized by the Nazis from her family home in Vienna. Maria managed to escape to the United States and, decades later, with the help of an inexperienced but eager lawyer Randy Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds), she seeks to claim back what is rightfully hers from the Austrian government. Based on a true story.

Then, he gets persuaded to take on her case when he realises that the painting is potentially worth more than US$100 million (S$140 million).

Eventually, he finds a deeper and personal connection and he hangs on doggedly despite the odds stacked against him.

Mirren and Reynolds play off each other nicely.

Director Simon Curtis (My Week With Marilyn, 2011) handles the underdogs versus the high-handed authorities legal battles effectively.

While the Klimt painting was described at one point as the Mona Lisa of Austria, its Jewish subject was also obscured by the title of Woman In Gold, reflecting the country's uneasy relationship with its history even as a restitution programme was officially underway to redress past wrongs.

The Holocaust is no longer a fresh wound, but it throbs with an ache that reverberates in DNA, in ongoing battles for justice and in films such as these.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 26, 2015, with the headline 'Reliving Holocaust in search of justice'. Subscribe