Museum Hours ★★½

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

Should be right up my alley—Breughel is my favorite artist, and the film has a humanist outlook that too few contemporary films share. However, that outlook here is assumed, not earned. This is what I like to call a "thesis film," as in it gives you its thesis in the first 10 minutes (here in voiceover) and then makes a case for it. That's not inherently a bad thing—Certified Copy does that, Chungking Express in a lot of ways too, and of course Annie Hall—but Cohen's connections between the museum space and the ordinary are too streamlined. Much of the film is about appreciation in the mundane, and he finds some amazing details in his documentary-like approach to Vienna. Some of it comes with a curatorial aspect (the history of the red poles) but many more in simply the shots (a Russian nesting doll hiding a smile behind some sort of black slate was a favorite). Cohen knows how to de-center a frame, to let one's eyes wander with curiosity and often delight. As the woman sings the ballad to her cousin, I was transfixed by the movement of light in the background of her frame. But the running theme here is "appreciation," so Cohen kind of takes a grab bag approach to all of this. Each individual sequence works (there was a great moment where you can see a shadow moving across a Rembrant), but I find little connective tissue between anything except for the whole "art is all around us, one just needs to look." Some of the one to one links—a series of portraits connected to photos inside a bar—just kind of sit on the screen. At other times, it's clear Cohen clearly doesn't trust his audience to make the jump; once the observers are nude, then we can finally understand that they resemble the nudes that hang on the walls!

Positivity is always better than negativity, so I find Cohen's "targets" needlessly shallow: The description of the student who only sees "money" in the art, the kids who are bored at the museum, and worst of all, the clearly "philistine" attendees on the Breughel lecture ("But the name of the painting is The Conversion of St. Paul!"). Cohen isn't openly mocking them, but he is pitying them. There's something troubling about that kind of anti-elitist elitism he gives off in those scenes. "If these folks could only see what I see!" It's not inviting; it's condescending. The film ends up kind of repeating itself in places, so much that near one of the last sequences of observing people in the museum Cohen adds these very odd, jarring jump zoom cuts, as if the materiality of the frame no longer can hold its own weight. Add to this all that I found the duo more ciphers than individuals—a series of observations than actually motivated individuals beyond "looking for connection" (Internet Poker!)—and the final scene excruciating (a change in aspect ratio so we can understand there's a frame!), and sorry guys, I'm not on board. The short film by Cohen, Springtime, that preceded the film and features a sort of love story between two cats in a metal shop, was delightful.