Film Review : Museum Hours (2013)

IMDB Score – 7.0
Rotten Tomato Score – 94%
Netflix Watch Instant

Directed By – Jem Cohen
Starring – Mary Margaret O’Hara and Bobby Sommer

When a Vienna museum guard befriends an enigmatic visitor, the grand Kunsthistorisches Art Museum becomes a mysterious crossroads which sparks explorations of their lives, the city, and the ways artworks reflect and shape the world.

With such recent film I’ve seen being action packed adventures featuring monkeys riding horses with AK47s, infinite stones and gun wielding raccoons, and train revolutions, films like Museum Hours are able to center you back into a place of calm observance. This film from director Jem Cohen went pretty much unnoticed last year as it traveled the film festival circuit. A film about two people meeting in a museum and talking about life and art isn’t going to draw great crowds. A lot of feedback from the film was that it was boring and tedious. Critically is was revered for its humane look at what it means to connect with people and yourself through art. I can agree with that. I can also agree that this is not a film for everybody. It’s an acquired taste.

The film centers around the relationship Johann and Anne. Johann, played by Bobby Sommer, is a very kind guard at a nice art museum in Austria. On one of his shifts he meets Anne, a woman from Montreal who is in town to be with her cousin who is very ill. Mary Margaret O’Hara, who plays Anne, gives a very layered and subtle performance as she seems to blend perfectly together with Sommer. The two remind me a lot of an older Jesse and Celine from the “Before” trilogy. They have such chemistry with each other and slide between pleasant conversations as if it were happening naturally. Anne particularly has an immense amount of depth to her. She hasn’t seen her cousin, who is in what seems to be a coma, for years but she seems saddened by what has happened to her. She sets the stage for the theme of the film, which is an examination of our own lives as if we are examining the intricacies of fine art. Through her friendship with Johann, Anne is able to start to figure out her life. Johann is our narrator. He describes his early life and the life he has picked out for himself now as a museum guard. He explains how he observes the patrons to the museum almost as if they are part of the galleries he helps maintain. When he’s not watching people he is admiring the art and listening to the words of the tour guides doing their jobs right next to him.

The film is more of an essay than a full narrative. There are plot devices that move the story forward but what we really have here is a look inside what makes people human and the stages our lives go through. The relationship these two had seemed very real to me and I had trouble imagining that the conversations they were having were scripted in any way. It’s a neat little film that will teach you about people but in a nice way will teach you a hell of a lot about art. There are a few segments in the film that are just people talking about paintings. The museum has many pieces spanning many subjects and time periods. Each room is like a little aspect on what it’s like being human. It was a nice little film.


2 thoughts on “Film Review : Museum Hours (2013)

  1. I really connected with Museum Hours when I saw it earlier this year. I loved the feeling of being a tourist wandering through the city and meeting the characters along the way. I can see how it might feel tedious, especially when we stop for the lengthy art presentation. On the other hand, that seem approach is what I loved about it.

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