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Museum Hours

Directed by Jem Cohen

Austria, 2012

Cornerhouse, 7 September 2013

Museum Hours

A woman, not terribly well off, comes to Vienna to tend a cousin who has fallen into a coma.

Her days are fairly empty, so she attends the Kunsthistorisches Museum, where she’s attracted in particular to the Bruegels assembled there.  On one occasion she asks a museum guard for help: Could he talk to a doctor for her?  Advise her how to get to a hospital?  And in time the two strike up a friendship.

The film is about their friendship and about plenty of other things too: Vienna, the power of art to capture life, museums, mourning the dead.  How humanism can be lived.

There’s a talk on Bruegel midway through, a guest lecturer taking a group of museum visitors through his paintings, and it is worth seeing the film for that alone.  What makes Bruegel great and still modern, of continuing relevance to us (I paraphrase, though not too freely, I hope) is that there is so much going on in his paintings and it is rare for any one figure to be foregrounded or otherwise emphasised.  Not Icarus nor even Christ on the road to Calvary.  Auden got this right but the point is not (or not only) people’s indifference to a boy falling out of the sky.  The point is that all lives are significant.

This aesthetic (or is it better described as an ethos?) is carried over into the film itself, where in the main we are shown the Vienna of the Naschmarkt (no palaces there, unless the nearby Wagner Apartments count) and where the central story concerns the friendship, extraordinary in its way granted, of two ordinary people.

A fine film, though I suspect some product placement as regards Gosser beer.  They do make good brews but Eggenberger’s Urbock is the one I’d seek out and sample if you get the chance: it’s formidable, kind of an Austrian Old Peculiar.

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