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Film review: Museum Hours (12A)


Hard to explain what kind of film this is, other than a deeply beguiling one. Director Jem Cohen has overlaid a civilised art-history essay with a story of random connections and the comfort of strangers. Johann (Bobby Sommer), a security guard at Vienna's grand Kunsthistorisches Museum, reflects on life and art in gentle voiceover; he once managed rock bands, now he's keen on some peace and quiet. By chance he gets talking to Anne (Mary Margaret O'Hara), a Canadian who's in Vienna to visit a cousin she hasn't seen in years, now in a coma.

"What is it about some people that makes us curious?" wonders Johann, who takes this rather stranded woman under his wing. But Cohen is less focused on their tentative friendship than on the glories of the museum, notably the roomful of Bruegel paintings, layered with its own share of mysteries. The framing and lighting of the artworks is exemplary. With a wondrously unobtrusive touch the film presents a lesson in looking, and also in the more complicated business of appreciating.