out of Five
Running time: 70
A small film with a big heart, Federcio Veiroj’s tale of a beleaguered cinematheque and its life-shy film programmer, is a charming ode to the big screen.
What’s it all about?
Uruguayan director Federico Veiroj’s second feature about a failing cinematheque in Montevideo is a film of two halves: for the first 30 minutes we are fully immersed in the daily life of the venue, following 45 year old programmer Jorge (excellently played by a real life critic Jorge Jellinek) as he dutifully goes about his job and strains with his colleagues to reverse the cinematheque’s decline. Yet, after the inevitable happens and Jorge clears his desk, the second half of the film refuses to stay in mournful mode, whisking the viewer along on Jorge’s romantic quest to ask professor and cinematheque regular Paolo (Paola Venditto) out on a date.
Verioj films his tribute to cinema in black and white, and just like in the good old days, the credits roll at the start. He takes care to show Jorge lovingly repairing worn seats, he films the posters on the walls and the view from the projector box too; he even puts you right in the cinema during screenings, filming from the position of the audience. But this is also a more critical and candid glimpse behind the scenes. Verioj doesn’t just blame forces beyond the control of the institution for its decline, he shows a lack of engagement with the wider public from within the institution.
As a former employee of Montevideo’s cinematheque, Veiroj could also easily have made a documentary lament for the failing institution. Indeed, with the first half confined to goings-on within the cinematheque and with no external soundtrack, it feels a bit like one. But then Veiroj does something much more interesting: he shows the perils of a life disconnected in a dark room as middle-aged Jorge, who still lives with his parents, is left bewildered and alone after the cinema, where he has worked at for 25 years, closes.
However, Veiroj charmingly demonstrates Jorge adapting, using the films in his head to do battle with the real world. And it’s in these scenes, where his exploits are accompanied by a dramatic soundtrack of drum rolls and swirling strings lifted straight from the pictures (including one lovely Gene Kelly tribute scene where he dances on some stairs), that A Useful Life will win its place in your heart.
Veiroj’s inventive and heartfelt portrait of the perks and pitfalls of cinephilia is necessary viewing for film-lovers everywhere – and would make for an interesting double bill with The Artist.
A Useful Life (La Vida Util) (tbc)