Museum Hours is the story of a friendship that springs up between a museum guard (Bobby Sommer) and a woman (Mary Margaret O’Hara) who finds herself in Vienna to visit her ailing relative.
Museum Hours could easily have been a tale of friendship and finding a connection in the most unexpected of places, and in a sense, it is. It is also an odd cinematic essay, art lecture and frankly, a mess.
Jem Cohen, renowned for his documentary work, tries to weave a narrative in with a documentary style, and make comments on the friendship between his leading characters, and the world we live in, through an extended scene that focuses on a tour guide taking visitors through the museum. It is easy to see that this is what the director was trying to do, but what comes out of the film is a self indulgent examination of the museum and an audience who is bored, confused and ultimately doesn’t care about the fate of any of the characters.
We do not get to know much about the central pair, which would not be a problem if there were some revelations through their interactions with one another, but there are not. All we are left with is a series of dull conversations about the history of Vienna, interspersed with awkward cuts to art work and the poles that are traditionally left on the streets of the city. As well as this, Cohen has somehow managed to make Vienna – one of the most beautiful cities in the world – seem dull and grey, which is certainly an achievement on the part of the director.
The pacing of the film is an absolute mess, and the audience may well struggle to find any piece of the film to hold on to, as it meanders, seemingly without purpose, through it’s running time, which ends up feeling like a lifetime.
In all, Museum Hours is a torturous study of self-involvement and an experiment in mixing styles of cinema that simply does not work. The ideas are clear to see, and are interesting ones, but the execution of the film is ill advised and painful.