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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

Museum Hours review: life as art

Museum Hours green light Mary Margaret O'Hara Bobby Sommer

A little bit like a travelogue, a little bit like people-watching, this is simultaneously a relaxing and invigorating cinematic experience. Simply magnificent.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

What a wonderfully strange and strangely lovely film! Canadian Anne is visiting Vienna, not as a tourist but because an old friend of hers is dying in a hospital, and she escapes from that horrible reality in the glorious Kunsthistorisches Art Museum, where she befriends guard Johann, who initially takes pity on her confusion about a city she doesn’t know. There’s no grand drama here, just two people hanging out, sharing stories and becoming friends as Johann shows Anne around the museum and the city. Spoiler! There isn’t even any romance. A little bit like a travelogue, a little bit like people-watching, this is simultaneously a relaxing and invigorating cinematic experience. Filmmaker Jem Cohen’s camera lingers with its serene eye on the city, turning garbage in the streets and piles of crap at a flea market into darkly beautiful Renaissance paintings, like the Bruegels in the museum room Johann likes best. (In one scene, we eavesdrop on a long lecture delivered by a museum proctor on Bruegel’s works, and it is totally fascinating.) Mary Margaret O’Hara as Anne and nonactor Bobby Sommer as Johann apparently improvised much of their dialogue, which meanders from sickness and death to art and politics to heavy metal music, and is never less than gently riveting, and often funny and incisive. (“Nowadays they call it event management,” says Johann of his former life as a rock roadie in the 60s. “We just called it rock ’n’ roll.”) Cohen’s previous work is primarily in the field of art documentaries, and while I suppose that, technically, Museum Hours should be considered an arty experimental film, it feels very grounded, modest, and straightforward to me. The cold dark gray of Viennese winter throbs with life and warmth, and a wall of snapshots in a bustling pub becomes as significant and as meaningful as that room full of Bruegels. Simply magnificent.

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Museum Hours (2013)
US/Can release: Jun 28 2013
UK/Ire release: Sep 6 2013

MPAA: not rated
BBFC: rated 12A (contains infrequent moderate sex references and natural nudity)

viewed in 2D
viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

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