News from the Locarno Festival

The Old and the New in Leviathan and Museum Hours

The Old and the New in Leviathan and Museum Hours


Two of the most interesting films that the Concorso Internazionale has to offer are films that broaden the visual spectrum of the viewer. Both Leviathan and Museum Hours look at something old in a new way, providing instructive experiences that remind us of just how much there is to see, and just how many infinite ways there are to see it.

Leviathan, taking place on a fisherman’s boat and shot on small, digital cameras, invites us onto a visceral expedition. Utilizing this new technology that would otherwise render this sort of filmmaking impossible, co-directors Véréna Paravel and Lucien Castaing-Taylor express a very fundamental and old human endeavor through a frenetic means that feels distinctly of the now. We observe this seemingly alien world of metal, noise, and massacres of fish by strange human figures. By abstracting this relatively common and altogether normal setting, the viewer gains an intense impression of a world that feels not of our own. If you get the chance, see the film in the front row, and hopefully with the volume cranked up. Paravel and Castaing-Taylor’s creative methods transform what would seem to be a documentary subject into a palette for an avant-garde experimentation.

On the other hand, Jem Cohen’s Museum Hours is not so intense a film, but contains a more patient visual excitement. Cohen articulates the importance of art, images, and our interaction with them. Slowly throughout the film, an advocacy for visual literacy resonates more and more, while simultaneously the human story within the film, of an American woman, staying in Vienna to see her dying sister, who befriends a lonely museum guard, quietly moves us. It is timely, to examine the value of painting and the lasting value of aging art in the context of an accelerating world assaulting us with images. Cohen’s nicest touch is to apply his keen eye to the worlds both inside and outside the paintings, causing us to look at his own compositions of streets, buildings, and people with a newly refined perspective. Ultimately, it leaves the viewer more visually aware of the world around them. You may just find yourself looking at things a little differently once you leave the theater.

Cinema’s value, in its best form, is in its ability to expand perspectives and challenge our preconceived vision of the world. Each of these films, though entirely distinct from one another in terms of style and content, are unique and original works of art that provoke the viewer, and offer us new ways of seeing.

Adam Cook

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