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In the Kunsthistorisches Art Museum in Vienna, Johann is a security guard who finds a special quiet magic at the institution. One day, a Canadian woman arrives on a compassionate visit to the city, and the two strike up a friendship through their appreciation of art. That relationship helps put all the other goings on at the museum and in the city in perspective as Johann observes and participates in them in a world where art can say so much more than a casual visitor might know. Written by
Kenneth Chisholm (firstname.lastname@example.org)
"Lost in the dangling conversation, And the superficial sighs, In the borders of our lives." - Lyrics from Paul Simon's The Dangling Conversation
Jem Cohen's Museum Hours is a personal treatise about the impact of art upon our everyday lives. The film takes places mostly at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in modern day Vienna. Amid the Flemish and medieval art, somewhere between the Egyptian sculptures and the Bruegel paintings sits Johann (Bobby Sommer), a security guard enamored by his work who casually observes the museum's visiting population as he philosophically debates the direct correlation between art and life's mysteries. He befriends Anne (Mary Margaret O'Hara), a Canadian woman in town to see her comatose cousin at a nearby hospital. Their friendship and dangling superficial conversations make up the majority of the film.
No doubt this is a very personal film for Cohen, the director and screenwriter, but for this moviegoer, it never quite came together. Much of Museum Hours is heavy-handed and pretentious. Too much of the time, the filmmaker seems too fixated on his artfully composed photographic images of townsfolk and objects seen on Austrian streets. He captures the city life but sacrifices any semblance of plot. Cohen belabors his non-existent story with dull dialog and sketchy characters that rarely provide any sudden revelations or insight on this aesthetic debate. Filled with philosophical wordplay, Museum Hours is an intellectual film caught up in its artistic self-importance.
The actors have no real chemistry either. One doesn't really care about the characters as they are written. Their times together are not the least bit memorable. Throughout the film, I felt like one trapped in a conversation with a party guest who has nothing much to say. Where the film does succeed is in Johann's philosophical observations about art and its place in our world. He questions art's timeliness, its overt sexual and violent messages, and its ability to speak with us emotionally, no doubt strong ideas in search of a coherent story.
It's the storytelling that is sub-par and the film meanders as much as its camera-work and direction. Cohen goes off course much of the time with scenes of nude visitors roaming the galleries or showcasing a flea market with discarded items set against a voice-over from a museum's interactive audio tour, anything to create a direct connection to art and the world. And speaking of tours, for some reason, we leave the film's semi-plot to take in a 20 minute guided lecture about Bruegel's artistic contributions that becomes the centerpiece of the story, which is actually the film's best and most interesting scene. Museum Hours never makes much sense. It celebrates the visual arts but says very little about it. Just how many shots of blackbirds and pigeons and cold urban cityscapes can one take for the sake of art?
Excluding the gorgeous close-ups of the artwork, of which there are many, Museum Hours is about as exciting as watching old paint dry. GRADE: C
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