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Woman in Gold
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Woman in Gold is a historical drama about Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren), a Viennese Jewish Holocaust survivor who sued the Austrian government for the return of five pieces of art stolen by the Nazis. Although there's occasional strong language (including "s--t" and one "f--king") and some disturbing scenes of Nazi cruelty toward Jews during World War II, this is ultimately a movie that middle schoolers could see with their parents, using it as the basis to talk about very real historical issues regarding the Holocaust, Nazi war crimes, the artist Gustav Klimt, and Vienna's cultural heritage. Positive messages include the power of art, the the importance of remembering the horrors of the past, and pride in your heritage.
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What's the story?
WOMAN IN GOLD is the story of Holocaust survivor Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren), who in 1998 decided to file a restitution case for art that hung in her family's beautiful Vienna apartment until the Nazis stole it. With the help of her attorney, Randy Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds), the son of a family friend (and grandson of Viennese composer Arnold Schoenberg), Altmann sues the Austrian government to return five paintings, chiefly Gustav Klimt's famous Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I -- dubbed "Woman in Gold" -- which was actually a portrait of Altmann's beloved aunt Adele Bloch-Bauer. Part courtroom drama and part historical drama, the movie cuts between Altmann and Schoenberg's legal campaign and Maria's memories -- both wonderful and horrible -- of her family, her home, and Vienna before the Nazis changed it forever.
Is it any good?
Like her compatriots Judi Dench and Maggie Smith, Helen Mirren is one of the preeminent actresses alive today, and even in less-than-stellar films, she never phones in her performances. She plays Altmann with the dignity and grace you'd expect of a woman who spent her first 22 years living in the luxury and elegance of upper-crust Vienna. With her lingering accent and sense of refinement, Altmann is a woman with high standards and a mission to secure either her family-owned art or, at the very least, a public apology from the Austrian government. Mirren, like Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady, is the main reason to see the film.
The flashbacks are a necessary and powerful interruption to the legal problems Maria and Randy face in 1998. Maria's memories shift between her childhood in the '20s and her wedding reception one year before the Anschluss brought Nazi rule, rampant anti-Semitism, and deportations to her lifelong home. As a young married woman, Maria is played by the talented Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black). Maslany and Max Irons, who plays Maria's opera singer husband, Fritz Altmann, are so compelling as newlyweds facing the unthinkable that it's hard not to wish the movie were about them, rather than the elder Maria dealing with her rookie attorney's lawsuit. Reynolds is really the weak link in this movie. He's not convincing in the role, and Mirren does most of the dramatic heavy lifting. Ultimately this is a Mirren vehicle, and her performance will make audiences long for their own beloved aunts, just as Maria longs to have the Klimt painting of her beautiful Aunt Adele.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Holocaust-themed movies. Why do you think it's a subject that continues to fascinate filmmakers -- and audiences? How does The Woman in Gold compare to other movies dealing with the topic?
Discuss how the Austrians are depicted. Why was handing over the Klimt such a difficult decision? What did the piece mean to Austrians? How could you find out more about this story?
How accurate do you think the movie is? Why might filmmakers be tempted to tweak facts in movies based on true stories?
Although this part of the story is ignored in the movie, some art critics have criticized Maria Altmann for selling the Klimts instead of giving them to a museum. As a result, not all of the paintings are on public display. Do you think she should have donated the pieces?
- In theaters: April 1, 2015
- On DVD or streaming: July 7, 2015
- Cast: Helen Mirren, Ryan Reynolds, Tatiana Maslany
- Director: Simon Curtis
- Studio: Weinstein Co.
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Arts and Dance, History
- Run time: 110 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: some thematic elements and brief strong language
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