THE PATIENCE STONE and MUSEUM HOURS



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I saw the movies The Patience Stone and Museum Hours on the same day, and one of the more interesting overlaps here is that they both have as a central plot point someone who is in a coma.   I don’t know if that would be considered a zeitgeist, but there it was.  However, beyond that, the movies have little else in common.
The Patience Stone is written by Jean-Claude Carriere (a screenwriter who actually dates back to many Bunuel films like Diary of a Chambermaid and Belle de Jour) and the director Atiq Rahmi, based on a book written by the director.   In it, the person in a coma is the husband of a much younger wife.  The two live in a house in an unidentified Middle Eastern city that is war torn.  Fighting is going on all around them while people go about their everyday activities (going to work, shopping, praying, getting water) as if all the bullets flying by are annoyances they have to put up with, like flies.  But the wife has no money; no way to buy more medicine; little food; no water; and two little girls to protect.
One would think from this description that the movie would be a tension filled high wire act of an experience.  But oddly enough, it never really connects in an emotionally satisfying way.  Instead, the longer it goes on, the more slack it becomes.
There are probably two reasons for this.  The first is that the movie seems to be about two things.  One through line dramatizes the second to second, minute to minute, day to day struggle for survival on the part of the wife (which gives the story what tension it has).   But the other through line dramatizes the wife’s awakening to her own sexuality and worth as a human being.  This part seems forced and what is termed “too on the nose” in the biz; it just never feels like it is growing organically out of the characters’ personalities and situation.  And these two through lines never really come together in a meaningful way. 
Meanwhile, Museum Hours, written and directed by Jem Cohen, is also a bit all over the place.  It’s one third drama, one third art lecture and one third travelogue (the story takes place in Vienna, Austria).  Unlike The Patience Stone, one could make a case that almost nothing happens here.  Yet, as it goes along, you find yourself and more won over by its offbeat charms until you have to know how it’s all going to turn out.
The story revolves around Johann (Bobby Sommer), a security guard at the Kunsthisroisches Art Museum.  He’s an older man who has had his trials, a gay man who lost his partner a few years earlier (if I understood the dialog correctly—this sort of was thrown out so off handedly, I wasn’t sure I heard right).  But he is also at peace, coming to enjoy his days at the museum, both the people watching as well as his interactions with the visitors.
This time around, the person in a coma is a Canadian woman who had moved to Austria some time before.  The only family contact in her possessions is a cousin, Anne (Mary Margaret O’Hara), who lives in Montreal.  Though Anne hasn’t seen her cousin in some time, she comes to Vienna to take care of her.  She meets Johann at the museum when he helps her with directions to the hospital.  The two bond as he offers to be her interpreter with the doctors there.  As time goes on, they find themselves in each other’s company more and more until the inevitable happens with Anne’s cousin, and she has to return home.
The movie hops all over the place, leaping from through line to through line almost willy nilly.  There seems to be little cause and effect as to when the jump will come and the story goes from a trip through some caves to Anne by her cousin’s side at the hospital to Bobby’s often quite astute ruminations on the various artists in the museum, like what paintings teens like best and his feeling that some of the paintings are no more than soft core porn of their period.   He especially has strong feelings about the artist Bruegel, who did sort of documentary paintings about peasants and their day to day life—there’s one very funny scene where a art lecturer, played by Ela Pilpits, is challenged by a couple of pompous visitors until she walks off in a sort of huff at the end. 
There’s a leisurely feel to the movie (Cohen is obviously in no hurry to tell his story) and the acting is of the non-actorish type (as in the Italian neo-realists).   This does give the feeling of a movie that perhaps goes on a little longer than it should; more professional actors might have given it a bit more energy.  At the same time, this is a very satisfying and ultimately moving film.

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