Santa Cruz Good Times

Friday
Aug 28th
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Life Imitates Art

filmArt, life, past, present merge in meditative 'Museum Hours'

If you've ever been to the venerable Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, you're in for a nostalgic treat with the film, Museum Hours. But you need not have ever been to Vienna to be drawn into the odd, languid spell cast by this Austrian-American co-production. Anyone who has ever haunted any Old World museum with a rich collection of Late Middle Ages and Renaissance paintings may find herself strangely beguiled by this meditation on art and life, past and present, and the many ways and places in which they intersect.

The film is written and directed by American Jem Cohen, who has an extensive list of credits in music videos and documentary shorts. Museum Hours has a bit of a documentary vibe to it; the main character, a museum guard, narrates his thoughts and observations as he goes about his daily life, almost as if responding to an interviewer, and onscreen conversations have an unscripted, ad-lib feel. There's not much in the way of plot or action, yet the film is thematically rich in its ideas on the secret symbolism of pictures, and art as the social media of its day.

Johann (Bobby Sommer) is a uniformed guard at the KHM. He spends his days on a chair in a niche before a heavy wooden door and behind a thin gold rope, although he often gets up and wanders around the colossal red, turquoise and green-walled picture galleries, making himself useful to museum visitors. The job has its tedium, he admits, but he enjoys the quiet now, after years of teaching woodshop to high school students and managing a rock band on the road.

His favorite gallery is the Bruegel room. Indeed, the KHM has the world's largest collection of paintings by Bruegel the Elder, large canvases teeming with messy life in all its diversity—allegorical wedding or hunting scenes, tiny figures acting out their tiny dramas in vast, uncaring landscapes, religious or mythological scenes radically reimagined in terms of 16th Century peasant life. Johann "always sees something new in the paintings" that continue to speak to the human condition.

One day, he strikes up a conversation with Canadian visitor, Anne (Mary Margaret O'Hara). A cousin she was close to in childhood is in a coma in a Viennese hospital, and, in the absence of any other family, Anne has borrowed money to come spend time with her. Johann offers his services as a translator, accompanies Anne to the hospital, even begins squiring her around town for modest bistro meals in the evenings. He gets her a museum pass so she can spend her days inside the KHM, out of the winter cold.

But their budding friendship doesn't go where you think it might. (Early on, Johann mentions in passing that his last ex was a "he.") Instead, he and Anne become allied art explorers, soaking up the pictures and viewing art through the lens of life (and vice versa). Filmmaker Cohen composes every exterior shot like a Bruegel painting—black birds in the snow, distant stately buildings, busy street scenes—despite occasional cars or tram tracks. When Anne notes the "innocence" of a nude Adam and Eve, Cohen shows us a few random museum visitors similarly stripped down and unashamed. At a bustling flea market in the rain, Cohen pauses to consider the transitory nature of items composed like a still life in a junk-shop window.

Sommer makes an engaging tour guide, of both pictures and life. Grooming himself to go out one evening, he inspects his lined face in the mirror and wryly mutters, "Johann the Elder." At the museum, Johann notes, "adolescents compete to be the most bored and make fun of the art," yet they are always surprised by the sex and violence in the paintings. They could go online and look at Internet porn, he reasons, but the museum setting is both more safe, yet far more disturbing.        

The lack of narrative drive will frustrate some viewers, but Museum Hours is more about reverie than story. It would make a great double-bill in your Netflix queue with Lech Majewski's splendidly nutty Bruegel-movie mash-up, The Mill and the Cross, but it will be so much more compelling on a big screen. 


MUSEUM HOURS ★ ★ ★ (out of four) With Bobby Sommer and Mary Margaret O'Hara. Written and directed by Jem Cohen. A Cinema Guild release.  Not rated. 107 minutes. In German with English subtitles, and English.

Comments (0)Add Comment

Write comment
smaller | bigger

busy
 

Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share

 

The Meaning of ‘LIFE’

With a new documentary film about his work, and huge exhibits on both coasts, acclaimed Santa Cruz nature photographer Frans Lanting is having a landmark year. But his crusade for conservation doesn’t leave much time for looking back

 

Seasons of Opportunity

Everything in our world has a specific time (a season) in which to accomplish a specific work—a “season” that begins (opportunity) and ends (time’s up). I can feel the season is changing. The leaves turning colors, the air cooler, sunbeams casting shadows in different places. It feels like a seasonal change has begun in the northern hemisphere. Christmas is in four months, and 2015 is swiftly speeding by. Soon it will be autumn and time for the many Festivals of Light. Each season offers new opportunities. Then the season ends and new seasons take its place. Humanity, too, is given “seasons” of opportunity. We are in one of those opportunities now, to bring something new (Uranus) into our world, especially in the United States. Times of opportunity can be seen in the astrology chart. In the U.S. chart, Uranus (change) joins Chiron (wound/healing). This symbolizes a need to heal the wounds of humanity. Uranus offers new archetypes, new ways of doing things. The Uranus/Chiron (Aries/Pisces) message is, “The people of the U.S. are suffering. New actions are needed to bring healing and well-being to humanity. So the U.S. can fulfill its spiritual task of standing within the light and leading humanity within and toward the light.” Thursday, Aquarius Moon, Mercury enters Libra. The message, “To bring forth the new order in the world, begin with acts of Goodwill.” Goodwill produces right relations with everyone and everything. The result is a world of progressive well-being and peacefulness (which is neither passive nor the opposite of war). Saturday is the full moon, the solar light of Virgo streaming into the Earth. Our waiting now begins, for the birth of new light at winter solstice. The mother (hiding the light of the soul, the holy child), identifying the feminine principle, says, “I am the mother and the child. I, God (Father), I Matter (Mother), We are One.”

 

The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program

 

Film, Times & Events: Week of August 28

Santa Cruz area movie theaters >
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments

 

Land of Plenty

Farm to Fork benefit dinner for UCSC’s Agroecology Center, plus a zippy salsa from Teresa’s Salsa that loves every food it meets

 

If you knew you had one week to live, what would you do?

Make peace with myself, which would allow me to be at peace with others. Diane Fisher, Santa Cruz, Network Engineer

 

Comanche Cellars

Michael Simons, owner and winemaker of Comanche Cellars, once had a trusted steed called Comanche, which was part of his paper route and his rodeo circuit, from the tender age of 10. In memory of this beautiful horse, he named his winery Comanche, and Comanche’s shoes grace the label of each handcrafted bottle.

 

Cantine Winepub

Aptos wine and tapas spot keeps it casual