by Matt J. Popham
Jem Cohen’s MUSEUM HOURS is exactly the sort of haunting, beautiful, sophisticated work of cinema that too many people will too readily dismiss as pretentious, art-house tedium. Their loss, I suppose… A deceptively simple story about an unlikely cross-cultural friendship that develops between two quietly lonely people in the halls of Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Art Museum, the film is also a witty aesthetic treatise, a microcosmic tour of art history and theory, and a touching humanist parable that juxtaposes the way we look at art with the way we look at life. Though studiously paced and dramatically muted, its hushed tones belie its sharp mind and fiery heart, for Museum Hours is, in its soft and subtle way, a film with a mission. By framing and contextualizing its narrative against a backdrop of Breughels and Rembrandts, it seeks to do for us exactly what its two leads do for each other, namely, inspire a new way of seeing the world around us. An “art film” in the best (and broadest) sense, it reminds us that even the most common, ordinary, and oft-overlooked details in our field of vision can tell powerful, enlightening stories, and inform our understanding of the bigger picture.