Jem Cohen: Our Review of ‘Museum Hours’ on OVID

Posted in What's Streaming? by - April 11, 2024
Jem Cohen: Our Review of ‘Museum Hours’ on OVID

Anne (Canadian singer Mary Margaret O’Hara) is a Montrealer in between jobs when she hears a piece of bad news because it turns out, a cousin of hers falls into a coma in Vienna. There’s little to do in between visits to the hospital so she goes to the Kunsthistorisches Museum. There, she meets a guard, Johann (Robert Sommer, a non-actor), and they strike up a platonic friendship. Art is one of their main discussion topics but they also discuss things like music and their past lives.

Anne and Johann’s friendship is central to Jem Cohen’s Museum Hours but there’s more to it than that in this film of interludes, a film about the democratic nature of art. There’s a natural curiosity to Anne specifically, who looks at the city outside of the curated tourist experience. There’s a confluence of character and ethos as it looks at Vienna’s regular citizens. The camera closes up on the average person as it does its two protagonists.

Speaking of close-ups, the film makes the artistic decision, and thus a good one, to use a secondary character in its climatic scene. That character is a guest curator who gives some tourists her perspective on Northern Renaissance master, Pieter Breughel the Younger. Full disclosure to those not in the know – art as a subject in Museum Hours is already catnip to me as a viewer. But this scene gives me perspective on an artist that I liked but not loved so I’m in.

Yes, the detours in Museum Hours are quite fine for my taste, but I’m just as thankful when it pulls back to scenes when we see or hear the protagonists. A lot of the film has Johann narrating what he observes during his work hours. Yes, it’s a trope when a viewer of an artwork falls under someone else’s mindful gaze. However, there’s something warm about Johann’s observations, especially as he astutely ties them to other topics.

The other nitpick about Museum Hours is that there are a lot of scenes that feel like filler. Museum patrons look at paintings intently, or Johann and Anne ride the transit to countless destinations. Yes, much of the film uses Anne and Johann’s voices as the viewers’ guides. But there’s also something great about observing without context, a film that doesn’t spoon feed us. This makes for a richer experience, as if we’re exploring places with our wits to guide us.

Museum Hours comes soon to OVID.

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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watches movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
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