Nothing Better Than The Real Thing: 'Museum Hours' and 'This Is Martin Bonner'
As Martin, Australian actor Paul Eenhorn demonstrates a tremendous gift for subtlety and surprise. He's fascinating in every close-up, his face capable of effortlessly conveying uncertainty, sadness, quick intelligence, and good humor. Martin becomes such a unique, endearing character that I felt a pang of disappointment when the credits rolled. I want him to be real. I want to buy him a cup of coffee.
Among Hartigan's most remarkable achievements is his persuasive depiction of Christian characters. Big-screen Christians are almost always caricatures. They're pawns in a game of propaganda and proselytizing; or they're straw men set up to be knocked down by an artist's sneering prejudice; or they're villainously hypocritical, designed to discredit the faithful. But through Hartigan's eyes, people in any season of faith can be good company, worthy of attention and respect.
I asked him about this, and found that he has personal reasons for giving believers their big-screen dignity. After all, he grew up a son of missionaries. "I'm constantly unimpressed with the treatment of religious characters in film," he said. "Even as a non-believer, it's extremely offensive to me." (Read more in my interview with Hartigan at Response.)
I watched This Is Martin Bonner hoping it would be one of those modestly admirable independent features that win festival buzz each year. (It did, after all, win major awards at the Boston Independent Film Festival, the Florida Film Festival, the Nashville Film Festival, the Sarasota Film Festival, and Sundance.)
What I discovered instead is one of those rare films that I purchase for my own collection and then eagerly loan to one friend after another. Like Tom McCarthy's The Station Agent, Phil Morrison's Junebug, and Mike White's Lars and the Real Girl—This Is Martin Bonner is a film I would gladly feature in a filmmaking course, highlighting its exquisite character development, observant filmmaking, and storytelling that just might change the way people live.
Museum Hours: Finding Grace in a Hall of Mirrors
When we first meet Johann, he's sitting happily in a red-cushioned chair, framed before a closed museum door. For a moment, it appears that he, too, is a work of art on display.
Perhaps he is. Johann, like Martin Bonner, is a quiet and observant man. But unlike Martin, he's confident and happy in his vocation. Each day, working as a museum guard in Vienna, he's content to stroll through the museum and observe both the paintings and the visitors. After confessing that he was once a rock band manager, he explains, "I had my share of noise. Now I have my share of quiet."
Now, meet Anne, a Canadian come to sit at the bedside of a hospitalized family member. She's weary from finding her way around a foreign city where she does not speak the language. Her long hours reading and singing to a woman in a coma are taking their toll. So she spends her spare time wandering through the museum.
Much of the movie's magic comes from its unconventional actors. Johann is played with warmth and humor by Bobby Sommer. He's an unlikely star. He was Cohen's driver to a Vienna film festival when the filmmaker realized that this guy had a unique charisma. Mary Margaret O'Hara—a celebrated singer and songwriter, and sister to funny girl Catherine O'Hara of Beetlejuice and A Mighty Wind—plays Anne as a beautifully disheveled and impulsive traveler.