NR, 107 min.
Director/Writer: Jem Cohen
Starring: Mary Margaret O’Hara, Bobby Sommer, Ela Piplits
Jem Cohen’s “Museum Hours” is one of those quite, intimate movies that help to define Ebertfest as a unique and truly original film festival. It’s an unobtrusive film that might seem too quite outside the Ebertfest atmosphere, but makes for a perfect second day afternoon film. It doesn’t bang at the audience. It just exists and through it you can discover a piece of humanity.
The movie involves two people. One is a security guard in a Vienna museum. He’s an older gentleman and has held many other posts in life. He’s happy to be a guard. It’s an easy job and he enjoys watching the people and the paintings. One day he observes a woman who seems a bit out of place. She’s going through a map trying to find the best way to get to a hospital. She’s not injured. She’s visiting someone there. The woman is Canadian and has found herself in Vienna on an unplanned trip. She has little money and befriends the guard who enjoys talking about art with her.
There’s a lot of down time in this movie. Many times the camera merely regards the paintings in the museum. Sometime the director mirrors the paintings with similar shots of the city of Vienna. There are two scenes of the woman singing to herself in her darkened hotel room. This is a movie of contemplation, and if you let it, it will allow you to contemplate life.
There is also one other key character. She is a teacher who is lecturing a class about paintings in the museum. She discusses in great detail the meanings of some of Brueghel’s paintings. One of her students questions a good deal of what she has to say, but she patiently clarifies all of her intentions. She’s quick to point out that some of the meanings found in art are not necessarily what the artist intended, but that does not make them any less valid. It is the artist who allows the interpretation to happen through his composition.