Museum Hours (4 stars)

Museum Hours

A leisurely, slender, trance-like depiction of a developing platonic relationship

In conventional terms not a lot appears to happen in this leisurely feature from experimental American filmmaker Jem Cohen. The softly-spoken, reflective narrator Johann (Bobby Sommer) is a middle-aged attendant at Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum, where he spends his days contemplating the gallery’s collection of artefacts and the visitors who flock to observe them.

He gets talking to an anxious Canadian tourist Anne (singer Mary Margaret O’Hara), who’s staying in the Austrian capital to visit her hospitalized long-lost cousin. Together, Johann and Anne begin to wander around the wintry city, exploring areas familiar to tourists as well as less well-known neighbourhoods.

Like several of 2013’s most interesting releases including Like Someone in Love, the Paradise trilogy, Shun Li and the Poet and The Act of Killing, Cohen’s film blurs conventional distinctions between documentary and fiction. Working with a slender story, he uses non-professional actors and real-life locations, shooting digitally within the museum itself and on Super 16mm for the exterior scenes. There’s something trance-like about the flow of images here, as close-ups of details within illustrious paintings are juxtaposed with shots of faces and buildings in the streets of contemporary Vienna, alongside numerous fades to black.

Johann and Anne are the sort of emotionally reserved individuals that other films would simply pass over, and thanks partly to the understated performances of Sommer and O’Hara, there’s poignancy to the platonic friendship that gently develops between their self-contained characters. And by focusing on the work of the Flemish painter Bruegel the Elder, whom a female curator describes as ‘less quaint and more radical’ than conventionally perceived, Cohen draws out some intriguing connections between the transience of our everyday lives and art that has endured for several centuries.

Limited release from Fri 20 Sep.

MUSEUM HOURS Trailer | New Release 2013

Museum Hours

  • 4 stars
  • 2012
  • Austria / US
  • 1h 47min
  • 12A
  • Directed by: Jem Cohen
  • Written by: Jem Cohen
  • Cast: Mary Margaret O'Hara, Bobby Sommer, Ela Piplits
  • UK release: 6 September 2013

When a Vienna museum guard befriends an enigmatic visitor, the grand Kunsthistorisches Art Museum becomes a mysterious crossroads which sparks explorations of their lives, the city, and the ways artworks reflect and shape the world.