Repository of human achievement or profit-driven visitor attraction? This eagle-eyed doc from Austrian Johannes Holzhausen not only celebrates the treasures of Vienna’s imposing Kunsthistorisches Museum, it also captures the daily dilemmas of an institution shaped by centuries of imperial power that’s now trying to find a role for itself in the modern world.
Filmed in the patient style of the veteran doc maker Frederick Wiseman, without an explanatory voiceover or captions, the result may lack the warm, human engagement of Wiseman’s best work (like the upcoming London-set ‘National Gallery’). But the subtle precision with which Holzhausen points up the underlying ideological quandaries involved in flaunting the museum’s market-friendly Hapsburg past proves cumulatively compelling.
Funding issues are never far away as the vast gallery undergoes a massive refit, and while the camera pores over all manner of fascinating exhibits, from disputed Rubens paintings to unsettlingly life-like statues and a mind-blowing galleon-shaped music box, it’s always in the context of a sharp appraisal of the museum’s ongoing identity crisis. This could easily have been some touristy promo item, instead it’s a trenchant, thought-provoking piece of cinema. Impressive.