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Museum Hours

2012 | 107 min | 1.85:1

Museum Hours


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Theatrical release date

 28 June, 2013
 06 September, 2013

Country of origin

 United States



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Museum Hours


Screenshots from Museum Hours Blu-ray

Museum Hours Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, September 13, 2013

“Museum Hours” is almost a literal title for this picture, which has the characteristics of a visit to a fine arts establishment. It’s observational and reflective, allowing for personal interpretation and artist commentary as it shuffles along, taking in the enormity of space and meaning with atypical cinematic patience. It’s a lovely feature, relaxing and exploratory, making it an ideal sit for specialized moods, best suited for viewers able to slow their heart rate and enjoy the view, allowing writer/director Jem Cohen to guide the viewing experience as it weaves through a tale of two people and the city they experience in both a direct and casual manner.

Living in Canada, Anne (Mary Margaret O’Hara) receives word that her beloved cousin has fallen into a coma. Traveling to Austria to see her, the visitor is overwhelmed with the city, unable to speak the language as she struggles to make her way around. Visiting the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Anne is approached by guard Johann (Bobby Sommer), who recognizes the woman’s distress, offering her help with maps and translations. Developing a friendship over extended periods of conversation, the pair spends time away from the hospital visiting Austrian landmarks and backstreets, sharing opinions and details of their lives. While Johann continues his professional obligations, watching thousands pour into the museum to scrutinize the meaning of the art, Anne floats around the building, taking in the particulars of appreciation and craftsmanship as she looks for a way to keep her mind off her cousin’s ordeal.

“Museum Hours” doesn’t have a defined shape, which is exactly the way Cohen likes it. It’s stillness cinema, employing the museum setting to expose the connection between life and art, comparing painterly representations of location and humanity with its real-world counterpart, using editing to compare and contrast the similarities as a method of exploring everyday beauty and artistic commentary. The potential for hostility is there, yet the filmmaker selects a peaceful method of examination, acting much like a museum patron, stepping back to explore the textures of world and the warming interplay between Anne and Johann. “Museum Hours” lingers on images and bathes in mood, communicating a process of contemplation that’s subtle but present, found in both the daily business of the Kunsthistorisches and in the probing conversations shared between the new friends.

If there’s a story here at all, it’s found with Anne and Johann, who stroll around together, sharing interests and philosophies. The museum guard is actually the lead character, narrating the film with a searching inner-monologue as he goes about his work, watching patrons amble around the building, taking in elaborate paintings with degrees of interest as Johann burns through his thoughts, stimulating his mind to wave away the repetition of his vocation. Art is a focal point for Cohen, concentrating on the work of Pieter Bruegel and his gift with crowded landscapes and social commentary. The cinematography lingers on the brush strokes, studying technique and meaning, with the movie halting midway through to take a literal tour of the Kunsthistorisches, where we watch a docent debate with tourists. It’s a strange detour, but not entirely out of character for “Museum Hours,” which often chases tangents and atmosphere without warning, keeping the viewing experience unpredictable.

Austria plays a major role in “Museum Hours,” with Cohen marching through the snowbound city to expose life in motion, treating the work as a travelogue of sorts, watching Johann and Anne wander through the urban bustle. The side trips are interesting, detailing landmarks and cultural quirks, keeping the spirit of the location alive. However, the film is quick to return to its human components, observing Anne deal with her grief and confusion through song, while Johann gets lost in his own head, generating an approachable perspective to otherwise distant work. “Museum Hours” isn’t for all tastes, requiring patience with the feature’s slow pace and sporadic distractions. The reward is an intelligent, observant effort that extracts a purity of existence from the nuances of art and enjoys the beauty of human connection.

Starring: Mary Margaret O'Hara, Bobby Sommer
Director: Jem Cohen

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