out of Five
Running Time: 106
Museum Hours is a grand, profound and exceptionally beautiful love letter to museums and the wealth of culture that can be found in everyday life.
What’s it all about?
Johann is a security guard at the Kunsthistoriches Art Museum in Vienna and quite content with his life, that is until he meets Anne, a Canadian woman visiting the city and her sick relative. They strike up a great friendship debating art, life and everything in-between, after Johann offers to help Anne get to grips with the city.
The vast collection of art and artifacts on show as the camera wanders round the grand Kunsthistoriches Art Museum in Vienna is rewarding enough viewing, but director Jem Cohen adds to this his deep respect for culture by visiting the surrounding architecture of the city; he tells a story of human connection that plays out, at times, like Richard Linklater’s Before series of films. In Museum Hours there’s a great wealth of beauty, emotion and truth that brims from not only the discussions between Johann and Anne but also from the gesture of kindness towards a stranger in a foreign city.
In Museum Hours, Johann is in a reflective period of his life; a wise man, who sees beauty in the everyday, he is still able to have his eyes opened by the friendship he develops with Anne. Jem Cohen brings a special kind of wonder to both his characters and the viewer by not over-egging the art talk, and instead ponders the bigger things in life. With Anne’s visit to Vienna determined by her sick relative, the great emotional toll of dealing with a loved one’s illness magnifies the importance of making the most out of life.
When there’s talk of art, it is great discussion rather than a large display of knowledge and Cohen lets his camera linger on beauty up close and from a distance. If art is a document of the past then this film holds up as a highly inspiring and rewarding piece that reflects modern life wonderfully through its narrator. Johann’s observations of the differences in interaction at the museum, such as watching through the eyes of a bored teenager or the passionate gaze of another teen having a profound experience is spot on.
Johann and Anne’s adventure takes them to the Seegrotte underground lake which is utterly spellbinding and serene. Johann‘s narration is honest and insightful, on first meeting him he tells us how he used to work in the music industry, putting on small gigs, but how now he enjoys the quiet. Writer and director Jem Cohen’s love for culture comes shining clearly through his well-drawn characters. A dedication to Cohen’s parents who took him to his beloved museums gives this film an extremely personal touch complementing its honesty, humour and heart.
A guided tour round the Bruegel exhibition in the museum explains where the heart of this film stems from. Bruegel is famous for his detailed depictions of peasant life and religious events, yet draws the eye and mind to something else that may not at first appear to be the main focus of the piece, and it is perhaps fair to say Cohen does exactly the same thing with this unexpected gem.
Watching Museum Hours is like wandering round the mind of the great art historians and influential thinkers of many different eras but it’s completely grounded in reality, which makes it all the more profound. You will be itching to walk round a gallery or museum as you walk out of the cinema in a bid to soak up some more culture. Museum Hours may also make you want to jump on a plane to Vienna…you have been warned!