Expand your horizons is a semi-regular set of blog posts, where I recommend anything, from films, books and museums, where you can learn more about a culture, country or society in a more ‘fun’ or mainstream way. This time, I’m recommending the 2015 British-American film, The Woman in Gold.
What’s it about? This drama stars Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds and recounts the true story of Maria Altmann (Mirren). Altmann, born an Austrian-Jew sued the Austrian government throughout the early 2000s for the ownership of paintings of her aunt that were stolen by the Nazis at the beginning of the second world war. The paintings in question include the portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I by Gustaf Klimt, which was hung for over fifty years in the Belvedere gallery in Vienna. While suing the Austrian government, Altmann suffers many setbacks as the they struggle to acknowledge their past, and to let go of a painting that was regarded a symbol of Austria.
What will you learn and gain?: This is a useful film for understanding how Austria reacted to her involvement in National Socialism. After the Second World War, Austria positioned herself as the first ‘victim’ of the Nazis. It was only in the 1980s with the Waldheim affair (which is briefly mentioned), that the can of worms opened, so-to-speak, and Austria acknowledged it played a more pivotal (and accepting) role in National Socialism than she let on. This film is a good example of how Austria wants to be an open, accepting country of their past, but struggles to acknowledges the atrocities that were committed in the country.
Why is this useful to me? If you’re interested in art, art history and Klimt, this is certainly a good film to watch and can be incorporated into discussion and further study. I would even recommend this to film students who want to write about something ‘different’, as Simon Curtis (the director) uses a variety of angles and dialogue to showcase the ironies of Austrian society; the opulence and reliance on the Habsburgs juxtaposed with the horror of National Socialism. I particularly liked the wide-angled shot of of a discussion panning eventually onto the Belvedere palace.
What’s it like? Helen Mirren is fantastic, as ever, and while the supporting cast are a bit ‘bleh’ (I’m not sure I saw the point of Katie Holmes’ character at all). The flashbacks of the film also add drama, suspense and intrigue if you’re interested in the changing shape of Europe as the Nazis came to power. I certainly found it interesting to see how a rich, rather than poor Jewish family coped with Nazism – something you never really think about as much.
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