“Woman in Gold” is a feel-good true tale, but no masterpiece.

Besides the awful genocide committed against the Jewish people during the Holocaust, they experienced many other atrocities. One is the dispossession of property, including priceless pieces of jewellery, paintings, and artefacts. Dispossession is putting it too mildly – theft, more like it. Around 100 000 artworks have never been reunited with their rightful owners.

Woman in Gold paints the incredible story of an elderly Austrian woman, Maria Altman (Helen Mirren), who embarks on a quest to have five masterpieces by Gustav Klimt, stolen by the Nazis from her family, returned to her possession. Among them is the so-called Mona Lisa of Austria, Klimt’s Art Nouveau Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, who was Altman’s aunt. The title of the film refers to the artist’s style of using masses of gold leaf in his paintings, creating artworks that (literally) radiate.

Maria, who fled the Nazi invasion of Vienna to the U.S., asks young lawyer, Randy Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds), for help. Almost unbelievably, Randy happens to be the grandson of the famous Austrian composers: Arnold Schoenberg and Eric Zeisl, who themselves had fled the Nazis. In the 1990s, Austria set up a restitution process for Jewish families to claim back stolen art pieces, many of which ended up in galleries after the war. The process was little more than a PR exercise, with many claims summarily denied. After all, some of these paintings were near priceless. Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, which ended up in Austria’s Belvedere gallery, was worth over 100 million US dollars during the time the story is set. And the Austrians weren’t keen to let this go.

The film opens with Klimt carefully brushing the gold leaf onto the painting and then moves to California, where Maria has made her life. Her story is told in flashback: memories of her aunt, of the paintings in her parental home, her wedding, the Anschluss (the German annexation of Austria), and the Nazis taking away their possessions. As part of erasing the identity of its subject, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, the Nazis simply renamed Woman in Gold, just another attempt at deleting the Jewish people from history. For Maria, her family’s Klimt paintings represent more than just wealth. She tells an Austrian journalist that it’s about keeping the memories alive, and of course, there is the need to see justice done and wrongs put right.

Maria’s pursuit to have what’s rightfully hers returned becomes a landmark case in which the U.S. Supreme Court rules she has the right to sue the Austrian government. This results in an unprecedented arbitration in Austria itself. It’s an emotional journey that lasts several years, involving both cover-ups and fraud.

The affectionate quibbling between the stubborn Maria and self-deprecating, well-intentioned Ryan provides a (surprising) on-screen spark. There are not enough superlatives to describe Mirren’s abilities to deliver in each film she stars in. Reynolds himself is quite lovable in Woman in Gold. It’s the kind of heart-warming film that’s enjoyable because at the end you can punch the air and say “yay!” It’s sweet with little tidbits of humour: “I wasn’t going to miss all the fun”, Maria tells Randy when he says she doesn’t have to join him in Austria, a place filled with painful memories. “This is like James Bond film. And you’re Sean Connery,” she quips.

However, because the movie focuses on the feel-good factor it doesn’t quite convey the horror of what happened during the Anschluss. Woman in Gold is not a masterpiece (though it manages to tell the story of Nazi/stolen art story much better than George Clooney’s insipid The Monument’s Men), Instead, it’s like a good copy of an original artwork: almost as enjoyable, just not quite.

Rating: 3½ out of 5

Director: Simon Curtis

Cast: Helen Mirren Ryan Reynolds, Daniel Brühl

Woman in Gold opens in SA cinemas on 31 July 2015.

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Carly Rae Jepsen really likes South Africa – she’s coming here in October.

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Hilltop Live Africa and Universal Music South Africa, in partnership with 94.7 and MTV have announced two dates for Carly Rae Jepsen to perform in South Africa.

The Grammy Award-nominated multi-platinum-selling Canadian recording artist will be in Cape Town and Pretoria in October as part of her E.MO.TION album release here.

The “Call Me Maybe” and “I Really Like You” singer will perform at Grand Arena, GrandWest, Cape Town on 21 October 2015 and the Monument Amphitheatre, Pretoria on 24 October 2015.

It’s unclear why Pretoria was picked over Joburg. Do people just really, really, really like her beyond the Boerewors curtain?

Love her or hate her, her tunes are the annoying kind that get stuck in your head on a loop for hours. She did a very cool video for “I Really Like You” that features Tom Hanks. Check it out below.

Only one African author on the Man Booker Prize longlist 2015. 

PRESS RELEASE:

“The longlist, or ‘Man Booker Dozen’, for the £50,000 Man Booker Prize is announced today, Wednesday 29 July 2015.

This year’s longlist of 13 books was selected by a panel of five judges chaired by Michael Wood, and also comprising Ellah Wakatama Allfrey, John Burnside, Sam Leith and Frances Osborne. The judges considered 156 books for this year’s prize.

This is the second year that the prize, first awarded in 1969, has been open to writers of any nationality, writing originally in English and published in the UK. Previously, the prize was open only to authors from the UK & Commonwealth, Republic of Ireland and Zimbabwe.

The 2015 longlist, or Man Booker ‘Dozen’, of 13 novels, is:

Author (nationality) – Title (imprint)

Bill Clegg (US) – Did You Ever Have a Family (Jonathan Cape)

Anne Enright (Ireland) – The Green Road (Jonathan Cape)

Marlon James (Jamaica) – A Brief History of Seven Killings (Oneworld Publications)

Laila Lalami (US) – The Moor’s Account (Periscope, Garnet Publishing)

Tom McCarthy (UK) – Satin Island (Jonathan Cape)

Chigozie Obioma (Nigeria) – The Fishermen (ONE, Pushkin Press)

Andrew O’Hagan (UK) – The Illuminations (Faber & Faber)

Marilynne Robinson (US) – Lila (Virago)

Anuradha Roy (India) – Sleeping on Jupiter (MacLehose Press, Quercus)

Sunjeev Sahota (UK) – The Year of the Runaways (Picador)

Anna Smaill (New Zealand) – The Chimes (Sceptre)

Anne Tyler (US) – A Spool of Blue Thread (Chatto & Windus)

Hanya Yanagihara (US) – A Little Life (Picador)

Chair of the 2015 judges, Michael Wood, comments:

‘We had a great time choosing this list. Discussions weren’t always peaceful, but they were always very friendly. We were lucky in our companions and the submissions were extraordinary. The longlist could have been twice as long, but we’re more than happy with our final choice.

‘The range of different performances and forms of these novels is amazing. All of them do something exciting with the language they have chosen to use.’

The judges were struck by the international spectrum of the novels, with the longlist featuring three British writers, five US writers and one apiece from the Republic of Ireland, New Zealand, India, Nigeria and Jamaica. Marlon James, who currently lives in Minneapolis, is the first Jamaican-born author to be nominated for the prize. Laila Lalami, now based in Santa Monica but born in Rabat, is the first Moroccan-born.

One former winner, Anne Enright, is longlisted. The Irish writer won the prize in 2007 with The Gathering. She is joined by two formerly shortlisted British writers: Tom McCarthy (2010, C) and Andrew O’Hagan (1999, Our Fathers, and longlisted for Be Near Me, 2006). US author Marilynne Robinson has been shortlisted for Man Booker International Prize twice, in 2011 and 2013.

There are three debut novelists on the list: Bill Clegg, Chigozie Obioma and Anna Smaill.

Four independent publishers are on the list, with Garnet Publishing and Pushkin Press appearing for the first time.

The shortlist and winner announcements

The shortlist of six books will be announced on Tuesday 15 September at a press conference at the London offices of Man Group, the prize’s sponsor.

The 2015 winner will then be announced on Tuesday 13 October in London’s Guildhall at a black-tie dinner that brings together the shortlisted authors and well-known figures from the literary world. The ceremony will be broadcast by the BBC.”