Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Jem Cohen's "Museum Hours"

A film looks at paintings in a museum, and then turns that vision on the world outside the museum. Everyone learns afresh to look, Johann (Bobby Sommer) the museum guard, Anne (Mary Margaret O'Hara), the museum visitor whom he befriends and to whom he shows Vienna, even the docent when she is challenged by an obnoxious skeptic.

Bruegel is the presiding genius of the film. His radical acceptance of the mundane, lowly and gross into his canvas. His mixture of realism and allegory. His eye-directing compositions. Like his paintings, Jem Cohen's film will reveal new details each time it is viewed. Its richness does not overwhelm because it is so well composed.

WL, who watched it with me, commented on Johann's sense of irony. His gentle irony is directed at crass museum visitors and at himself. But irony is also structural in the film; by providing commentary as the voice-over, he constantly directs us to the gap between phenomenon and meaning.

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