Saturday, July 6, 2013

Art of Life

Museum Hours (2012) - Cohen
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It's Cohen's landscapes that are so arresting- the mundane urban settings become meaningful -- the empty, stillness of the frames get more resonance by sporadic, gentle musings. Museum Hours loosely concerns an old guard Johann (Bobby Sommer) at Kunsthistorisches Museum and a middle aged woman Anne (Mary Margaret O'Hara) from Montreal, visiting Vienna to see her distant cousin who fell into a coma. There is a gentle flow to the film that is not hurried to anywhere, not married to anything, so it slowly puts your mind at ease. It opens you up, to put you in place of an observer, not unlike observing a painting in a museum.

Kunsthistorisches in Vienna is famous for housing, among other things, large volumes of Pieter Bruegel the Elder's work. Bruegel's paintings, along with Goya's happen to be some of my favorites. Cohen even dedicates a chunk of time for a museum guide to explain his work that even without their subversive nature, everything has equal importance. The guard narrates that he finds new things every time he sees Bruegel's paintings -- there is a broken egg, a man is squatting down and defecating in this corner, etc. Gently weaving real life and chance encounters of these two people with numerous paintings in the museum, the film is a sublime beauty. Anne singing to her cousin, snowy melancholic Vienna streets under the street light, Johann lovingly talking about his young coworker, a skate kid sitting, staring nowhere -- these images and sounds are equally beautiful and resonant in Museum Hours. Quite possibly the front runner for my favorite movie this year.

*the film was preceded by Cohen's ultra-short, Springtime shot in industrial Gowanus area in Brooklyn. Mood and imagewise, and not knowing his work at all, it was a good indication of what's to come.


  1. Just saw this last night here in Dallas cuz of this review. Thanks so much. It's great. Jem Cohen also did a really great Eliott Smith short called Lucky Three that I was thinking about during Museum Hours in how it also melds absorbing an artwork (a song) while also pertaining to location/geography (neighborhoods of Portland). Would be interested in your thoughts on it too. Great call on this one. Best, Barry