(director/writer: Jem Cohen; cinematographer: Jem Cohen/Peter Roehsler;; editor: Jem Cohen/Marc Vives; music: Mary Margaret O’Hara; cast: Mary Margaret O’Hara (Anne), Bobby Sommer (Johann), Ela Piplits (Gerda Pachner); Runtime: 106; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Jem Cohen/Gabriele Kranzelbinder/Paolo Calamita; Cinema Guild; 2012-Austria/USA-in English and German, with English subtitles)
“A Chris Marker kind of exceptional experimental film that sets its sights on observing art, the landscape, people, Vienna and our sense of being.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A Chris Marker kind of exceptional experimental film that sets its sights on observing art, the landscape, people, Vienna and our sense of being. The 50-year-old Brooklyn-based director Jem Cohen(“Chain”/”Benjamin Smoke”), making quiet waves in the film world for the last thirty years, takes us inside the famousKunsthistorisches Art Museum in Vienna to look at their collection. Cohen brings together the friendly, gentle and cultured elderly museum guard Johann (Bobby Sommer) and the soft-spoken middle-aged Canadian tourist singer-songwriter Anne (Mary Margaret O’Hara) when she asks for directions to a hospital and later returns to thank him. Anne is visiting her dying cousin in a coma at St. Josef Hospital and on her second visit the guard accompanies the Montreal visitor to the hospital, when asked. Thereby Johann welcomes the chance to be her tour guide in the city she does not know, and through the guard’s eyes we get to observe the museum’s great masters including the guard’s favorite Bruegel collection and hear a gifted museum guide, Gerda Pachner (Ela Piplits), help us through her tour guide lecture understand the painter better by showing us deeper things in his work that are often missed by the general public but were captured in an Auden poem. We also get a few history lessons dating from the 17th century about traditions in Vienna and learn that museums were created after the French Revolution to bring art to the masses, and we see for ourselves how the city’s environment tells us much about those who inhabit it. All observations are intelligently and often bemusedly framed around larger and more complex cultural concepts, as the ordinary is often transcended. On the intimate side, it shows a warm friendship grow without demands from either party.
It’s an accessible essay film for the thinking man to savor, and one I immensely enjoyed. Not concerned with commercialism or plot, the pic brilliantly uses its fictional characters to get at the real world, the real Vienna and the real art through ideas. It warns us in a laid-back way, without preaching, not to be fooled by art pretenders or by those who mistakenly tells us such nonsense as timeless paintings can’t change when it’s obvious everything changes–even one’s attitude as a youth changes with age. It made me think that when I was a youngster I liked Gene Autry westerns and probably could never imagine liking such an intellectual pic.
REVIEWED ON 1/18/2014 GRADE: A+