"Museum Hours": Adventures in a Museum Without the Exhibits Coming to Life

Halfway through Jem Cohen's Museum Hours, the audience listens to a docent (Ela Pipilits) give a 10-minute tour of the Pieter Bruegel room in the Kunsthistorisches Art Museum in Vienna. All of the film's themes are laid out in that scene, though it's not immediately obvious, which is also the point. On the surface, Museum Hours is about Johann (Bobby Sommer), a museum guard who befriends a Canadian visitor named Anne (Mary Margaret O'Hara, Catherine O'Hara's less famous yet equally talented sister), in Vienna to visit her hospitalized cousin. And it is about those things, but the picture ruminates upon some other things as well: the city of Vienna itself; the relationship between art and real life; what happens to wild young rock 'n' rollers when they get old and aren't so wild anymore (though they still like AC/DC, because who doesn't?); Bruegel's apparent obsession with horses hinders; and just what the deal is with those red and white poles leaning up against buildings. Museum Hours is very quiet except for when it's not, with often-improvised dialogue, and never less than fascinating for an audience willing to find as much to contemplate in an accepted framed work of art hanging in a gallery as in a pile of junk on a Vienna street. The red and white poles remain a mystery, however.

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