Anne (Mary Margaret O’Hara: Catherine’s sister, known as a singer) is called from Montreal to Austria for being her cousin-in-a-coma’s closest relative. Not having any conscious friends in town and without much expendable travel money, she hangs out extensively in an art museum, where she meets guard Johann. They start to meet outside the museum in his off hours too, though unusually, the movie never becomes a romance.
The audience has been conditioned to automatically think this will be a love story … But the cinema I care most about is about the drive toward the everyday, how we actually do live, how we feel, about things that actually happen. People love the fairy tale, but that’s not what happens here. It’s weird that there aren’t more movies about friendship.
Sometimes we linger quietly in the museum or around the city of Vienna – slowly, rhythmically edited slideshows of miniature scenes. Johann sometimes narrates, says his favorite is the Bruegel room, and we get a long sidetrack following a tour guide discussing Bruegel’s paintings with tourists, including the painting that was meticulously recreated in The Mill and the Cross. We see reality emulating the paintings when the museum attendees are portrayed as nude as some of the painting subjects they’re admiring, and I assumed that was a one-off quirk. But there’s a moment early on which I think lets us in on a prime Cohen concern: Johann is scrutinizing a Bruegel, seeing previously unnoticed details, and we cut from stray garbage on the ground of the painting’s scene to stray garbage on the ground in a nearby park, with equal attention paid to each. The movie ends with Johann’s museum-style narration of a humble windowboxed street scene, and other scenes nearby, art criticism of the everyday world… “and one begins to wonder what the main subject is.”
Cohen is, of course, the director of Benjamin Smoke, which I bought on DVD a decade ago and have never watched. He’s a music scene guy – the film was exec produced by Guy Picciotto and Patti Smith, and…
It sounds like a terribly dry and academic exploration (and there is even an art history lesson halfway through) but there is a great warmth and intimacy here reflected in the human connections and ephemeral details that surround the characters … Any film that encourages an audience to engage with the world, seeing both the cities we live in and their transient beauty anew, without resorting to manipulative sentiment must be applauded.