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Blu-Ray : Highly Recommended
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Release Date: December 17th, 2013 Movie Release Year: 2012

Museum Hours

Overview -

Acclaimed filmmaker Jem Cohen's new feature, Museum Hours, is a mesmerizing tale of two adrift strangers who find refuge in Vienna s grand Kunsthistorisches Art Museum. Johann, a museum guard, spends his days silently observing both the art and the visitors. Anne, suddenly called to Vienna from overseas, has been wandering the city in a state of limbo. A chance meeting sparks a deepening connection that draws them through the halls of the museum and the streets of the city. The exquisitely photographed Museum Hours is an ode to the bonds of friendship, an exploration of an unseen Vienna, and the power of art to both mirror and alter our lives.

Highly Recommended
Rating Breakdown
Tech Specs & Release Details
Technical Specs:
50GB Blu-ray Disc
Video Resolution/Codec:
1080p AVC/MPEG-4
Aspect Ratio(s):
Audio Formats:
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Special Features:
22-page Booklet containing essays by Luc Sante and Jem Cohen
Release Date:
December 17th, 2013

Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take


It's tempting to throw around the phrase "work of art" when discussing Jem Cohen's 2012 feature film 'Museum Hours,' but considering it's still relatively new, that sort of praise is in stark contrast to the museum and the centuries-old paintings, which serve as the movie's primary focal point. And yet with its eschewing of a familiar narrative or plot, and its carefully measured, often poignant understanding of how moments of quiet reserve fill our time between significant events, the film is as close to being an actual work of art, as it will likely ever get.

An exploration of humanity through art, and the initially arbitrary interest in the lives of others that turn genuine in sometimes unexpected, and yet wholly organic and engrossing ways, 'Museum Hours' concerns Johann (Bobby Sommer), a contemplative security guard at Vienna's splendid Kunsthistorisches Art Museum, who befriends Anne (Mary Margaret O'Hara), a woman who suddenly finds herself in a country she's never been to before because her name was found in the address book of a cousin lying comatose there. When not at the hospital, Anne fills her days by wandering around the relative comfort and safety of the museum, until Johann takes notice of her, and with his competent grasp on the English language, offers to speak with the doctors on Anne's behalf. From there, a relationship blossoms, but not the kind that anyone would have expected. Platonic and chaste, but tender and giving, Johann and Anne form a bond that serves as the framework for Cohen's film that's as much about being still, being quiet, becoming small, unnoticeable and just watching the myriad details of the world, as it is about two people finding one another at the exact moment they needed to.

Although the burgeoning friendship between Johann and Anne is at the center of 'Museum Hours,' there isn't necessarily a structure built up around their encounters. Initially (and through voiceover), Johann manages to secure Anne a pass to the museum, as a way of allowing her some sanctuary in the foreign city she finds herself in, and for them to keep in contact, should anything happen with regard to her cousin. But as the days pass (though time feels inconsequential in this film), Johann and Anne soon find they're spending as much time exploring the streets of Vienna, as they are the quiet, meditative works adorning the walls of the Kunsthistoriches Art Museum. And though Johann must find attractions that are both stimulating and cheap (neither he nor Anne have much money), their exploration of the world and its inhabitants begin to showcase their surroundings in a manner that lifts them from the prosaic to poignant with surprising ease.

Cohen presents these outings in the kind of places you might imagine: dimly lit pubs, where the liveliness of the patrons elevates the sometimes-grey atmosphere, street corners dusted with falling snow, and then in a town square seemingly littered with discarded belongings, that is really just an approximation of a flea market, or garage sale. There are boxes filled with old magazines and newspapers, bits of clothing and worn trinkets; it all seems like junk, but through Cohen's thoughtful eye, these collections of old things ask the question: What is considered valuable and what is thought if as trash? And while the audience is asked to contemplate that, Johann finds himself remembering what Vienna used to mean to him, by showing it to someone new.

But the surprising star of 'Museum Hours' isn't Vienna, or even Johann or Anne; it's the works of 16th century painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder and their clever amassing of seemingly mundane detail that is easily looked over at a glance, but given some time and the right frame of mind, they reveal new riches on subsequent viewings. Early on in the film, Johann remarks at the longevity of Bruegel's works, by recalling the first time he noticed something as unexciting as eggs tucked away in one of the images, and soon found other paintings contained eggs as well – which instilled in him a desire to look at these familiar canvases in a whole new light.

Like Bruegel's paintings, Cohen's lens takes pleasure in the seemingly inconsequential details of everyday life, but by focusing on them, he makes them wholly unique in their own regard and, more importantly, demonstrates why the are worthy of his film's attention. This conceit is brought to life during a surprisingly talkative moment when a lecturer (Ela Piplets) is questioned by a man about her interpretation of one of Bruegel's works, of which she states the point of interest is not necessarily the small portion of the image from which it gets its title. The man's infuriating literal mindedness that a title instantly and permanently denotes the intentional focus and sole point of interest of a work of art purposefully expounds on the efficacy of Cohen's work within the context of his own film. The cleverness of this encounter, of course, is to point out how 'Museum Hours' is such a build-up of seemingly minute details that even its own point of interest can be easily questioned. Is it the friendly, pleasant, almost romance of Johann and Anne? Is it Vienna itself? Or is it the Kunsthistoriches Art Museum, the treasures it houses and the people who walk its halls to gaze endlessly at them?

Thankfully, it never does say, but ultimately, it feels as though 'Museum Hours' is content to be a celebration of the simplicity of life and the joy in finding the simplicity of the world around us.

The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats

'Museum Hours' comes from Cinema Guild as a single 50GB Blu-ray disc in the standard keepcase. Along with the film, there is a booklet featuring essays from Luc Sante and writer-director Jem Cohen.

Video Review


'Museum Hours' has been given a very nice 1080p AVC/MPEG-4 encoded transfer that does equally well with the interiors of the museum, as it does with the streets of Vienna and its surrounding areas. There doesn't seem to be any filters applied to the film, but Cohen still manages to capture the cold and dampness of the weather during the time in which the film was set. Thankfully, none of this affects the detail of the film, as it remains high throughout, offering rich and in-depth looks at wonderfully rendered facial features, clothing textures, and background elements. Detail is extended to wider shots as well, as Cohen's slow-moving lens captures the city with excruciating wide-eyed zeal that feels truthful and poetic at the same time.

Contrast levels remain high throughout, shadows remain robust with no evidence of crush or banding, as delineation is also quite strong. Although color only plays a significant role while examining the paintings of Bruegel and others, they are vivid and bright without looking oversaturated or feeling like they were pumped up for the benefit of the presentation. Overall, this is an excellent looking disc that shows off a remarkable film in the way it was intended to be seen.

Audio Review


Given a lovely DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, 'Museum Hours' really delivers the kind of well-rounded experiences that all films of this quality should have. Dialogue is strong and easy to hear (whether you're listening to the original voice-over, or the English version), while the ambient sounds of the city tend to take up the remainder of the aural spectrum on the disc. The center channel is primarily devoted to the aforementioned dialogue, allowing the remaining channels the opportunity to focus on everything else. Truth be told, this is not a complicated film in terms of the mix, it is generally comprised of quiet moments and some dialogue with ambient noise or atmospheric effects added to help complete the picture.

This is a mix that's deceptively simple: there's no score to speak of, and what sound effects are present were likely there when filming occurred, and yet that's really all 'Museum Hours' needs. This may be a narrower mix than most are used to hearing, but aside from a few examples of hollowness, it's a very nice one indeed.

Special Features

  • Alternate voice-over track (all English)
  • Amber City (HD, 49 min.) – A short film (though 49 minutes is by no means short) that can only be described as experimental in nature, 'Amber City' was a commissioned work that Cohen shot on 16mm in Italy with music by Chan Marshall (Cat Power) and several others.
  • Anne Truitt, Working (HD, 13 min.) – A short film/interview done in 1999 wherein Truitt discusses color and sculpture and the role different colors play with different sculptures. Cohen has filmed portions of this in black and white and often refusing to show what it is Truitt is directly talking about, making her words actually seem even more important. It is a brief but interesting look at a compelling artist.
  • Museum (HD, 8 min.) – This is an unreleased silent film that Cohen shot in the '90s on Super 8. It stands as a documentation of his affection for museums and is a predecessor of sorts to 'Museum Hours.'
  • Theatrical Trailer (HD, 2 min.)
  • Festival Trailer (HD, 2 min.)

'Museum Hours' is a wonderfully intelligent and intelligently made film that encases the viewer in the beauty of its imagery, while possibly showing them sights they've never seen before, or presenting them in an entirely new light. Though it eschews story and plot to become a film that's mostly an experience, or about sensations, Cohen's effort here is nothing short of remarkable. With some interesting extras, great image, and good sound, this one comes highly recommended.