3 Stars – Powerful
The true story of the return of art stolen by the Nazis from an Austrian family of Jewish descent is a powerful one. Demonstrating that modern justice no longer allows the spoils of war to be the possession of the mighty, the manipulative or the opportunistic, director Simon Curtis weaves together present and past in an artistic film resembling the painting around which this story revolves.
The screenplay is written by Alexi Kaye Campbell and is based on the writings of E. Randol Schoenberg and Maria Altman. It is the story of Maria Altman (Helen Mirren, Tatiana Maslany and Nellie Schilling) and Randol Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds) who took Austria to court and were victorious over the Austrian government’s attempt to keep the stolen art.
The story begins with Maria who becomes aware after her sister’s death that she had attempted to get back their family’s paintings in the 1940’s after the war. Since she had been unsuccessful, Maria decides to take up the cause and solicits the help of a friend’s son who is not only a lawyer but also a grandson of a family from Vienna who were life-long friends of her family. This is the journey not only of Maria as she faces the ghosts of her past but also of Randol who discovers his roots that shape his present.
The ensemble of actors is wonderfully cast and the interactions between present and past characters are artistically presented. Maria’s aunt whose image is captured by the Austrian artist Gustav Klimt (Mortiz Bleibrteu) is the beautiful Adele Bloch-Bauer (Antje Traue). Having died just before the Nazi invasion, it is her portrait and her will, as well as that of her husband Ferdinand (Henry Goodman), that are the center of this legal battle.
Also part of the story is an Austrian journalist, Hubertus Czernin (Daniel Brühl), whose family shame compels him to help Maria and Randol in their battle to reclaim their stolen art. Judge Florence-Marie Cooper (Elizabeth McGovern) plays a pivotal role early in the legal battle when she rules that the case has standing in American courts. Pam Schoenberg (Katie Holmes) gives her husband support as Randol makes personal and career sacrifices to see this battle through, and Barbara Schoenberg (Francis Fisher) is his mother who initially gets him involved in the case.
The progress of human and international relations such that the spoils of war can be taken from the victors or opportunists is a great step forward in the cause of justice. It might even be that such post-war restitutions may cause those considering war as a means of gaining wealth to reconsider such a choice. We still have a long way to go before restitution is consistently upheld throughout the world, but experiencing the human suffering caused by such unjust plundering as Maria experienced makes the case in a powerful way, which is why this is an important film.
- The evil of genocide and greed are two primary legs of the warring madness of our world. What do you believe would have to change in human beings such that we could actually end war?
- On a cinematic level, the telling of this tale is visually and artistically engaging. What was most impactful on you as the viewer?
- If this were not a true story, it would seem improbable. How did the film affect you and your views of post-war restitution?