The director of new film ‘Woman in Gold’ starring Helen Mirren tells HuffPostUK he’s not worried about depicting wartime Austrians as villains and thieves, because of his indignation about how they betrayed the Jewish community.
Simon Curtis, who is Jewish himself, is at the helm of the film telling the true story of Maria Altmann, a Jewish refugee forced to flee as a young woman from Nazi-ruled Vienna. Decades later, Maria - now an American citizen - embarks on a mission to reclaim a painting stolen by the Nazis from her family. But it is no ordinary painting, it is Lady in Gold, a portrait of her aunt Adele by Gustav Klimt, now hanging in Vienna's Belvedere, and considered a national treasure by the Austrians.
Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds star in 'Woman in Gold' about Maria Altmann's epic battle for her art
Simon, who previously directed ‘My Week With Marilyn’, tells HuffPostUK: “I don’t have much sympathy for the Austrians of 1939, because of how they famously betrayed the Jewish community.
“I have more sensitivity to the modern day Austrians, and the film’s incredibly redemptive. One of my favourite characters in the film is Austrian."
While the modern parts of the film starring Helen Mirren as Maria and Ryan Reynolds as her lawyer are in English, the flashback sequences in Vienna are all in German. Simon says this is apt for the telling of Maria’s life, but also that audiences are fare more receptive to subtitles now, due to the popularity of ‘The Killing’ and other European drama on our screens – “viewers have to commit, get stuck in.”
The original painting hang in Vienna's Belvedere Museum and was considered a national treasure by the Austrians
‘Woman in Gold’ is the latest example of the dilemma of what to do with art that has passed hands – following George Clooney’s ‘Monuments Men’ last year, and the ongoing campaign to return the Elgin Marbles to Greece.
“Every case has to be judged on its own merits, it’s terribly complicated,” says Simon. “In this case, Maria was shattered, this painting represented her lost world to her, and anything that she got back would always be a bittersweet victory for her.”
Simon is far more certain on the importance of a film like this for young cinema-goers.
“We live in a comfortable Starbucks world, and we don’t think what our ancestors went through to get us to where we are today.
“This is a timely reminder of the perils of anti-Semitism and the perils of picking on anybody for their race.”
'The Woman in Gold' is in UK cinemas from Friday 10 April. Watch the trailer below...