In the new film "Museum Hours" life imitates art. Everyday details are presented in such an exquisite manner that they rival great masterpieces of notable artists. This compelling insight is seen through the eyes of a museum guard and a newfound friend.
Johann (Robert Sommer) is a middle-aged attendant at Vienna's Kunsthistorisches Museum. Aside from being employed there, he's also a devout patron. Musingly, he quips that he doesn't mind the tedium. In fact, it's a luxury. Johann is allowed the distinct privilege of being able to think incessantly. His greatest pleasure is derived from seeing something new in a painting each time he revisits it. Time flies for Johann.
One day he encounters a woman from Montreal who's a first-time visitor to Vienna. Anne (Mary Margaret O'Hara) and Johann immediately hit it off (both have a soft spot for heavy metal). He welcomes the opportunity to guide her beyond the museum walls at her request. Johann enjoys the prospect of becoming a tourist in his own city. But he doesn't drag her to the usual attractions. His keen knack for in-depth observation inside as well as outside of the museum walls prompts him to take Anne off the beaten path. Together, they find beauty in the most seemingly mundane objects.
Director Jem Cohen's unique visual style manages to take something familiar and have it seen from a completely different perspective. This is his first narrative feature, and it is such an intelligent essay on the power of observation, one can't help feeling totally connected to his images. There's a distinct lack of score, which serves to intensify the visual impact. It's a brilliant choice.
The evolving relationship between Anne and Johann remains strictly platonic, but their conversations with one another reveal intimate details of their quiet lives. They bond deeply through openness and honesty. It's Sommer's first role in a film and worthy of an Oscar. O'Hara's performance is as original and authentic as Sommer's. The casting of these two phenomenal actors could not have been more perfect.
One need not give a hoot about art to become thoroughly enmeshed in this beautiful film. "Museum Hours" is an artistic masterpiece in itself. Aside from being a veritable feast for the eyes, it's also an instruction manual for appreciating that which surrounds us in our everyday lives.
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