Movie Review: 'Museum Hours' -- 3.5 stars
Directed by Jem Cohen
Starring Bobby Sommer, Mary Margaret O'Hara
Playing at Lincoln Plaza and IFC Center
"Museum Hours" is centered on a kind guard at Vienna's Kunsthistorisches Art Museum, who befriends a Canadian visitor in town because her cousin has fallen deathly ill.
That's the pretext for a movie that explores what constitutes a work of art, the reasons we are compelled to look at it and the stories that can be discovered and understood depending on how and what we observe of it.
Coming from Jem Cohen, who specializes in a form of observational cinema that has its roots in a grand tradition but is rarely seen these days, the movie reflects the experience of spending hours wandering the galleries of a top-notch museum.
It has that sort of still power that slowly amasses into a herculean force, as the stories within the masterpieces lining the walls are drawn into the present.
The characters spend a lot of time looking at and thinking about these paintings; an in-depth unpacking of a Brueghel work is one of the movie's most compelling moments.
But the genius of "Museum Hours" lies in the way Cohen ties the minimalist story at the movie's center with the extraordinary art that fills his frame. This is ultimately a film about the beauty in the mundane, the joy of a still, quiet conversation, in which the experience of two ordinary people bringing comfort to one another amid tragic circumstances is every bit as sublime as the world's greatest art.