14 December 2013 | l_rawjalaurence
Fascinating Meditation on the Relationship between Art and Life
Nothing much happens in MUSEUM HOURS in terms of plot: the action focuses on the experiences of a guard at the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna (Bobby Sommer), as he observes the different types of visitor and reflects on the exhibits in the art gallery. He has a chance encounter with Anne (Mary Margaret O'Hara), a Canadian visitor who has come to see her sick relative in Vienna; and together they visit different parts of Vienna, as well as making regular visits to the hospital. Filmed on a minuscule budget. Jem Cohen's film reflects on the relationship between art and film, concentrating in particular on how (and whether) paintings by the Old Masters 'speak' to different types of viewer. Through brilliant use of visual compositions, Cohen shows how the daily rituals of Viennese life bear a strong similarity to those compositions portrayed in the paintings (for example, the work of Brueghel). This is designed to prove how the artists drew their inspiration from life, as well as their imagination. Other sequences are quasi-surrealistic - at one point we see three visitors to the museum who are naked, adopting poses very similar to those represented in the paintings. This technique emphasizes the importance of the imagination in the way we look at paintings. The relationship between art and life is reinforced by Johann's voice-over, as he reflects on the paintings, the visitors, and his reactions to both at any given moment. Beautifully shot (by Cohen and Peter Roehsler) in muted colors on a series of winter days, MUSEUM HOURS is a masterpiece of cinema, reflecting on the viewer's relationship to visual objects.