Vienna through Jem Cohen’s eyes is a patchwork quilt woven from ordinary urban landscapes that somewhere during the film turns into a work of art. Every proportion, field of depth, asymmetry or contrast suddenly gain multidimensional meaning. But it’s not the framing or camerawork that transforms radically throughout the film – it’s our perception. We’re nourished by Cohen’s portrayal of human relationships and his vision of art: not an abstract, cold, sophisticated being but a meaningful, relatable creative field where human experiences, sensitivities and insecurities meet. Sometimes a clash of two seemingly mediocre entities can bloom with a flower more beautiful than anything we’ve seen before. And yes, some call it love.
Love – or rather a wordless understanding – is a leitmotif of this outstandingly subtle, unpretentious and uplifting film. But what other authors seem to easily shallow and exploit, Cohen manages to enrich. Here “love” is not just a romantic explosion between two souls. It’s a search for understanding without being judged, a right to interpret without being told how to, a quest to look deeper.
In Museum Hours all of these desires can be attributed to main characters Johann and Anne: an aging museum guard from Kunsthistorisches and an absent-minded, melancholic American tourist. The unexpected interaction between these two lonely individuals turns into a mutual adventure and spiritual exploration. But, if not more fittingly, the above mentioned paragraph could describe the relationship between a spectator and a work of art. An invisible tunnel between the gazing eye and the perceived object, maybe the most intimate space of all.
When Cohen’s film is over and the lights go out, the world is not the same anymore. At least for a brief moment we become more focused, attentive, and open to all the unexpected configurations life is about to confront us with. Like in art, there’s never one, proper interpretation, a common truth that was revealed to us in a slightly more ironic way in Ulrich Seidl’s ”Pictures at an Exhibition”. The way Cohen poetically examines art, simultaneously teaching us to see it (art) as a mirror for our everyday emotions and thoughts, ultimately leaves us breathless.