It's a rare beast that movie comes in so quiet and understated yet still packs one hell of a punch. "Museum Hours" takes us into a stunningly beautiful other world that we simply don't want to come out of.
When a Vienna museum guard (Bobby Sommer) befriends an enigmatic visitor (Mary Margaret O'Hara), the grand Kunsthistorisches Art Museum becomes a mysterious crossroads which sparks explorations of their lives, the city, and the ways artwork reflects and shapes the world and the people who live in it.
Much like a trip to the museum, "Museum Hours" is the kind of film that you have to let sit with you and seep into your skin as it finds those genuinely fascinating and interesting moments as it navigates not only the aesthetic aspects of art but the emotional and transformative ones that occur both in and outside of the museum. Director Jem Cohen takes such immaculate care to make us an audience notice every single frame of the movie as it unfolds in front of our eyes. There is never a wasted moment and he wants us to know it as his simple yet truly stunning framing of the entire film made it feel like we were watching a painting inside of a painting. Cohen focuses less on the narrative but instead forces us to focus on the more subtle moments, which much like life make not only the artwork but life itself all the more richer. It's very much a type of essay film at its very nature, but rather then hit us over the head again and again with idea it only pushes home the ideal that we should never ever stop looking as there is art all around us. While the film admittedly has a very leisurely pace that probably needed a little trimming, it works as a very enjoyable near set piece that avoids any didactic tendencies thanks to an anchor of a handful of solid performances.
As our museum guard Johann who holds it all together, Bobby Sommer in his first on screen performance isn't necessarily delivering a character performance, instead it almost serves as a narrator for the visuals hitting the screen. He never really draws attention to himself, instead he forces the attention to what is happening around him, if he is in or even out of the museum. Mary Margaret O'Hara encapsulates the tourist vibe as an explorer in a new city, as almost the foreign subject in a painting that pulls our view away from the background and Ela Piplits as an art lecturer in the middle of the film and gallery, dissecting things that go on around us and it was such a key performance reminding us the narrative and our focus isn't necessarily where it should be and we have to look it all to truly appreciate this work of art.
Picture and sound quality on the Blu-Ray are first rate and the special features include the short films of writer/director Jem Cohen including "Amber City", "Anne Truitt, Working" & "Museum (Visiting The Unknown Man), an alternate English voice over track, the theatrical and festival trailer along with a booklet of wonderful essays by Luc Sante and Jem Cohen.
Like all pieces of art, "Museum Hours" is a subjective one but if you look and I mean really look you'll see something pretty special staring you straight in the face as it is a film that plays so well in those beautifully subtle and intelligent moments between these two unique characters.
4 out of 5 stars.
"Museum Hours" is now available to rent from all major providers, you can also find it available for purchase from retailers like HMV and amazon.ca.