Museum Hours

Museum Hours

  • More a work of art than fiction, Museum Hours is contemplative and beautiful, but also slow, indeed so slow that it loses interest.
  • At its best, as it often is, Museum Hours is intellectual, owing in no small part to fantastically improvisational lead performances from Mary Margaret O’Hara as Anne and Bobby Sommer as Johann. These are genuine characters played by genuine actors.
  • Which is why the film’s unfocused narrative often frustrates. With tighter focus on story, we could care about these characters, but Writer/Director Jem Cohen prioritizes philosophy, art theory and other intellectual pursuits over fiction, so we never know Anne and Johann.
  • Also frustrating: the rapidity with which the characters develop their friendship. Real relationships rarely develop this quickly, and so the characters’ connection is hard to accept, at least to start.
  • Yet, Museum Hours is often effective, especially when analyzing art theory. The film’s best scene: a guest lecturer taking museum goers through a guided tour of Kunsthistorisches’ Brueghels, analyzing the paintings and their relevance to the modern world. Here the paintings serve as metaphor for the movie itself.
  • Director Cohen’s camera angles are also outstanding, often giving the viewer the same emotion his characters must experience, as when Johann and Anne sit in a coffee shop, discussing the former’s past. In this scene, we feel uneasy, just like strangers developing a friendship often do, all because of Cohen’s camera placement.
  • Many of Cohen’s cutaways are gorgeous, as are his shots of Vienna. I have never been to the city, but Cohen makes it feel alive, beautiful, just like the art he so deftly features throughout this movie.
  • Perhaps most impressively, Cohen’s use of voice over is terrific. It gives us insight into the characters and the picture’s themes. It also serves as one of Museum Hours’ most important storytelling mechanisms. Plus, it is beautifully resonant, especially in the film’s final moments when the voice over serves to directly connect Kunsthistorisches’ art with the film.
  • In so doing, Cohen crafts a work of art every bit as complex as the paintings he analyzes throughout its run time.
  • Yet his direction is not perfect. He keeps an incredibly slow pace, one so slow that attention can easily wane.
  • I also question the artistic import of showing naked men and women admiring paintings, no matter the scene’s link to previous dialogue.
  • Museum Hours is artistic, yes, but that doesn’t mean I recommend it. There just isn’t enough to the narrative for that.
  • Final Grade: C-

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