Museum Hours luxuriates in pictures, in classic art, in how beautiful paintings work on us. So, it sounds like a fly-on-the (gallery)-wall documentary, right?

And it is partly a documentary too, or a documentary that hangs itself on a sketchy fictional backdrop. Sometimes less is more. Museum Hours is a bare sketch in terms of action, but at the conclusion the movie seems eminently bigger than it is. In terms of directorial comparisons, there is a touch of Eric Rohmer and his quiet lassitude, his still waters running deep.

Canadian musician and singer Mary Margaret O’Hara plays the reflective, distrait Anne. Anne has arrived in a snowy Vienna with little money. Wearing the same green coat and jeans and boots, she wanders around the city's Kunsthistorisches museum.

This is Anne’s first time in Austria, she has only been in Europe once in her life years before. She has come to sit at the hospital bedside of a cousin, who is in a coma, and she hopes to awaken him back to life with talk and song.

Very early she befriends gallery attendant Johann (Bobby Sommer) who arranges a free pass to the Kunsthistorisches. We hear Johann’s extremely perceptive musings on his life to date, on paintings, and on gallery visitors, the obnoxious and the polite. (He has been involved in the music business, as indeed has the actor who plays him.)

Clearly, Johann and Anne are two late middle-aged individuals whose active social years are well behind them, yet they find common ground in art, and in the off-beat features and curiosities of Vienna.

Much of the filming was done in a working-class area of the city, and a particular sequence filmed in a rain-spattered, snow-spattered flea-market is deeply moving, even without trying. The camera pans over the shabby, flappy merchandise, while the museum audioguide to the Egyptian Book of The Dead  is heard as voiceover. Just one of many such curious moments in what is a quietly mesmeric film that relies in a good way on improvisation. Can be seen at the IFI.

Paddy Kehoe

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