Friday, May 02, 2014

SFIFF: The Great Museum

Thursday evening at the SF International Film Festival I watched The Great Museum, a captivating behind-the-scenes look at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. The film shows preparations for the re-opening of the museum's Kunstkammer in 2013 & is shot Frederick Wiseman-style, without narration & without explicitly identifying its subjects. It observes & reveals rather than explains.

The museum appears as an elite world. I felt like I was getting privileged glimpses of everything, from the work of the conservators to marketing meetings to the silent deliberations of fussy curators. I loved the thrilling tracking shot of an archivist using a kick scooter to travel through a series of long rooms. In one excruciating sequence, we see beads of sweat form on the forehead of a restorer as he manipulates the delicate innards of a 16th century mechanical ship. A tense meeting of museum guards exposes closed circles within the museum itself. Recurring peeks into the office of a long-time curator coalesce into a gentle story by the end of the film.

The festival screening was full. Before the film started, a woman repeatedly demanded that the air conditioning be turned on, "to get some air circulating, because we're all middle-aged here." Near the end of the film, a man in the back row, who probably has difficulty behaving in public, made comments aloud about Habsburgs & Germans.

§ Das große museum
Director: Johannes Holzhausen
Austria, 2014, 94 mins.

§ The 57th Annual San Francisco International Film Festival
April 26, 2014, 6:30 p.m.  New People Cinema
May 1, 2014, 7:00 p.m.  Sundance Kabuki Cinema

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