Museum Hours

September 5, 2013

Museum Hours – Review by Greg Wetherall


A leisurely film that pores through the relationship between art and life may not sound like the easiest sell. However, for those looking for something of meditative substance, the latest movie by Jem Cohen is well worth your time.

It must be said that the team responsible for this small-scale and languid film pack quite an impressive resume of music industry connections. Cohen himself has directed works ranging from REM, Fugazi, Godspeed You Black Emperor!, Elliott Smith, Patti Smith, amongst many others. In fact, speaking of the iconoclastic rocker and poet Patti Smith, she is actually one of the two co-producers on this feature.

So what is the film about? Well, Johann (Bobby Sommer) is a mature and statuesque guard in Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Art Museum. Gradually, he develops a friendship with an enigmatic Canadian tourist, Anne (erstwhile singer-songwriter Mary Margaret O’Hara. Trivia alert – she sung backing vocals on Morrissey’s ‘November Spawned A Monster’). The museum forms an anchor for their friendship, becoming a place where the two ruminate on art, life, the city and the link between all three and everything else.

With the Vienna connection and an outline screaming a face value kinship with Before Sunrise (1995) or even the Paris-set Before Sunset (2004), it may be with initial sadness for fans of Richard Linklater’s work that this is not a similar talkie-dominated trawl through a city. Those who expect that will be disappointed. To momentarily venture into art-speak, this is more the work of an impressionist. It dips in and out of coherence and consistency. It moves around much like a museum visitor would. One moment the attention is drawn to one thing, before moving on to another. You may return to the former thing. Or you may not. The same applies here. Pointed purposeful shots and seemingly purposeless shots intermingle. For some, this could be tedious. For others, this will no doubt be essential to investing adequate thought and time into the nature of the topics discussed and suggested. It is best to think of this film as like flicking through the pages of a photo album. What appears inconsequential often adds to the tapestry of the themes. Do we live through art or does art live through us? How do we define timelessness? All these questions, and many more, present themselves. Weighty stuff indeed.

Museum Hours is certainly a film at ease with itself, comfortably slipping in and out of its own slippers (hell, it could even have a smoking jacket and a pipe). With the space and quietude presented, there are distant tonal parallels that could be drawn with Sofia Coppola’s Lost In Translation (2004) along with stylistic flourishes reminiscent of Kieslowski’s Three Colours Blue (1993) and even moments of cinema verite peppered in there too.

Yes, this is not a mainstream feature. Yes, it is set in and around a museum. Yes, you could even say that this is literally an art house film. Whilst it is clearly not going to be for everyone, those who are willing to surrender to its rhythm, Cohen’s work will provide an utterly life-affirming and compelling ride full of thought and reflection. You do not get the chance to say that about many films that contain the English language these days. This museum is open and a bounty of rich rewards await.

Leave A Comment

Your voice matters. Conversations are moderated for civility. Read our guidelines here.


Leave a Reply


Radio Player App

Download the SupaJam radio app so you can access SupaJam Radio on your phone!

Support Supajam!