This is one of the most beautiful, haunting, meaningful films I've seen in a long time. There's no real plot, no real narrative, no real drama ... so much so that many call it boring, tedious, and complain that nothing happens. Yet they're missing one of its central points: the Nothing that happens is actually Something. In its simple, single thread of story, the museum guard Johan befriends the Canadian woman Anne, who's come to Vienna to be with a cousin who's fallen into a coma. Anne has little money, and Johan not only shows her the city in a way that doesn't need a lot of money, but shows her empathy & subtle human connection. Movie conventions would have us expect a typical romance to follow; but this film is far wiser than that.
In truth, the film is more of a meditation, even a tone poem, on art & life. Each fleeting image takes on the aspect of a painting, rich & brimming with possibilities, not unlike the masterpieces in the museum. And those masterpieces are shown to be filled with possibilities themselves, always open to new interpretations & revelations, rather than being dead & static. The viewer is invited to pause & really look at the world, down to its most (seemingly) mundane details, to see the beauty & mystery that hovers over every moment of existence.
For example, when Johan asks Anne if she saw anything interesting earlier in the day, she tells him of seeing a flock of pigeons at the bottom on a concrete embankment, scattered on the ground "like pepper" -- and how they suddenly flew up in a perfect arc into the sky. It's something any of us might see any day, without noticing it in the least. But how many of us would really look at it & truly SEE it, in all its wonder & grace?
What strikes me in particular is the lack of conflict, deemed so essential for any story today. Johan senses the loneliness of a fellow human being & responds to it, simply because he's a decent human being. He has no hidden agenda, no terrible inner secret driving him to help. He & Anne are just two human beings who have lived long enough, with enough sensitivity, to have been bruised without being broken, who can look at the world around them with more compassion than regret or resentment. They have genuine wisdom, a wry, rueful, but certainly not defeated view of life, one that enables them to decline from passing judgment on others as an unthinking reflex. They observe, they reflect, they laugh, they share their common humanity. Everything is understated, which somehow makes for a more complex & mature emotional response from the viewer.
In short, this is a reminder of what a civilized life is supposed to be, something that's sorely lacking in much of today's fast-paced, profit-driven, terribly superficial world. As such, it won't appeal to every viewer; but for those who value a life that goes deeper than the latest trends & fads, this is essential viewing -- most highly recommended!
Note: the DVD includes three short films by the same director, each of which is a meditation on art & life in its own way. The addition of these films reveal the sensibilities & vision of the director, and makes me want to see more of his work.