Last Sunday I went to see a film, which was enthusiastically recommended by the dinner guests we had. Since my apartment is looking out at the Hudson and Manhattan Island, it’s a natural choice to see the fireworks through the windows, while munching on pre-dinner finger food and sipping wine.
My friends were only mildly interested in the colourful explosions, and rightly so. They held them on the East side, and despite the comfortable settings and wide open views through my picture windows, all we saw on the West side, were the distant and rather unspectacular left overs of what is the high point of the American Day of Independence.
With not much ‘Oohing and Wowing’ spectacles, my guests retired away from the windows to the living room, while I put the finishing touches on dinner.
The conversation flowed as it does with people who enjoy each other’s company, and one of the women, a brilliant and creative person whose taste I trust, noticed a Gustav Klimt book on the coffee table. She looked at the book with great interest, looking for the very famous portrait of Adel, The Woman in Gold. When she found it a story poured out, a story that brought tears to our eyes: she spoke of a film she saw some days ago, and I promptly made a ‘must go’ decision. I just knew it’d be an unforgettable experience. Needless to say, I cried through the whole movie, adoring the story, the acting by Helen Mirren and the flawless execution of jumping back and forth between the past and the present. Though it has little to do with a travel blog, it just had to be shared with the readers of this blog, if just to ascertain that it not be missed.
The movie, starring a dry eyed Helen Mirren, playing an 82 year old, regal lady whose breeding and class are evident despite the mediocrity of her circumstances.
It begins after the funeral of her older sister, when Maria Altmann discovers that she believed a lie most of her life: after the infamous ‘Krystallnacht’ in Vienna, which many believe to be the start of the holocaust, the violence the Joseph Goebbels organised against Jews, rioting and smashing window panes, entering wealthy homes and plundering priceless objects of art, jewellery, and in the case of the Bloch Bauer family, they invaded the palatial, culture filled home, pillaging it, and tearing all the art off the wall, harshly stealing Gustav Bloch Bauer’s priceless Stradivarius cello, an act which turned out too much to bear, and he died of a broken heart two weeks after. The Bloch Bauers were at the heart of the avant-garde art and culture scene. They held salons in their huge stunning homes to people like Gustav Klimt, the composer Schoenberg (whose grandson helped Maria win the case), Sigmund Freud and the whole Viennese Cesses ion movement. Maria’s wealthy Jewish parents and her aunt Adele and uncle had exquisite taste in art, which they collected and in 1907commissioned the incomparable Gustav Klimt to do a portrait of Maria’s beautiful aunt Adele Bloch Bauer. The choker necklace made of platinum and breath taking diamonds worked perfectly with Klimt’s gilding style, as he breathed life into the painting. It became the centrepiece of the Bloch Bauer home, lighting up the already stunning décor with one of the most beautiful paintings ever created. Adele was very close to her little niece, encouraged her to be strong and confident and Maria worshipped her. In 1926, at age 44 Adele contracted meningitis and passed away, and in her will she made a ‘kind request’ to bequeath the painting to the National Gallery upon her husband Ferdinand’s death, should he wish to do so. Twenty years later, when he died, the paintings have long been in the possession of the Nazis, He will said prior to his death that he wished for his nieces and nephews to own the paintings his porcelain collection and all the priceless treasures, after having lost all kinship to the Austrian government.
The elderly lady lived under the impression that the paintings were legally given to the Austrian National Museum of Art, the heart of which was the Viennese Mona Lisa, the portrait of Adele Bloch Bauer, renamed the Woman in Gold, in order to hide the Jewish origins of the subject.
This movie is different from most films about the holocaust. There is little visual focus on the atrocities done to human beings, though it’s clearly implied.
The objects that one had and lovingly collected, roughly torn out of their possession, and taken over by the thieves and murderers, who proudly paraded the spoils without remorse, up until Maria took up action.
The restitution movement is symbolized by a young man whose father was a Nazi and was now doing everything to help Maria and her young lawyer.
This is a movie, which no Jewish person should miss. In fact, I would much like for the world at large, to see the courage it takes to revisit the past, actively battle the government that took all you had, and at almost 90, win.