If you've traveled alone, in Europe. in the winter, and you're strapped for money, you probably sought refuge in museums. I did, and I know pretty much how Mary (Mary Margaret O'Hara) felt roaming the lonely, yet artistically rich rooms. Mary was summoned to Vienna by a hospital staff person -- her cousin was in a coma and Mary was the only relative they found. So, Mary visits the still woman, talks to her, sings to her, quietly sits with her. Otherwise, she reflects upon the great works lining the walls of the Kunsthistorisches (art history) Art Museum. Fortunately, she is befriended by museum guard Johann (Bobby Sommer) who not only points out specific works within the museum, but also takes her to the sites around town and nearby. He gets as much out of her company as she does his, and he enjoys revisiting tourist sites he hadn't seen in years.
Most importantly, perhaps even more than these two people themselves, is the art, especially the works of Bruegel. The question is asked, 'Can a painting be timeless,' and director Cohen astutely answers it with his own artistic comparison of Bruegel's great works and the people of Vienna today. We watch the elders slowly brave the cold with their shopping bags as the wend their ways home through the colorless streets; children skateboard in a light snow; ancient buildings are repaired against the ravages of time. The similarities are striking. We are in art -- either 500 years ago at the hands of the great masters or today through the camera by such artist/filmmakers as Jem Cohen. It is merely to be appreciated. Museum patrons, and the film's audience, are even given the treat of a docent (Ela Piplits) tour enriching the experience of viewing a painting by pointing out details, Breugel's possible intent, and suggesting we formulate our own interpretations.
'Museum Hours' is a languidly paced appreciation of one museum and the art it contains. The protagonists are us, the experienced museum goer, the refuge seeker, taking the time to look closely at the details, stepping back to be overwhelmed by the magnitude of the experience. We are offered all the different ages of art, from prehistoric fish amulets to the modern contemporary. We should all slow down when we walk through museums, and we should practice by going to 'Museum Hours.'
In English and German with English subtitles
Director / Writer: Jem Cohen
Cast: Mary Margaret O'Hara, Bobby Sommer, Ela Piplits
Time: 106 min.
Opening on September 20th at the Opera Plaza in San Francisco