Look around you is the insistent message of Museum Hours.
Playing out not unlike a middle-aged entry in the Before Sunrise series of movies, which feature two people chatting about life and love for 90 minutes or so, Museum Hours focuses on singer Mary Margaret OHara as a Canadian who visits Vienna to check in on a comatose cousin.
While there, she befriends an art museum guard (Bobby Sommer), whose commentary carries along the films theme that paintings by the old masters still have plenty to teach us.
They are, in a sense, documentaries, says another museum employee as she introduces patrons to the works of Pieter Bruegel the Elder.
This woman is a minor character in the film, but shes astonishingly vivid as she discusses how Bruegels jam-packed paintings tell multiple stories, how they respect the importance of even the minor figures in them (much like this woman is a minor figure) and how their striking details keep them modern.
Director Jem Cohen brings that point home with a clever and seamless transition from Sommer talking about tiny details in a Bruegel an eggshell, tossed-aside playing cards to a shot of litter on a Vienna street.
For a second, there seems to be nothing to separate us from Bruegels day, nearly 500 years ago. For a second, it is as if we are in the Bruegel.
Not much happens in Museum Hours. Scratch that. Nothing happens. But OHara (who strongly resembles her sister, Catherine OHara) and Sommer are great company, and theres something magical and effortless about the ways Cohen asks us to examine the link between art and life: Characters sit without moving, as if in a still life; visitors to a museum assume poses similar to the statuary on display; a guide describes an unseen painting to museum visitors so vividly, its as if they and we are painting it in our minds.
Its a film of such delicacy and mystery that, almost like the work of a master painter, it draws you into its quiet world, where there is beauty everywhere you look.