A Useful Life- 16 January, 2012
A Useful Life is a new Uruguayan film that continues an aesthetic started by Whisky and 25 Watts, two classic Latin American films directed by fellow Uruguayans Juan Pablo Rebella and Pablo Stoll. The dry humour is there, as is the unlikely choice of leading actors and use of black and white, as well as a story that revels in everyday life. It shouldn’t be too surprising then that the director Federico Veiroj worked as a scriptwriter on those films.
A Useful Life tells the story of Jorge (played by Uruguayan film critic Jorge Jellinek), a film programmer busy preparing for a new season at Cinemateca in Montevideo. The film begins by depicting Jorge at work, frequenting meetings, dealing with mundane issues at the cinema, hosting his film show on the radio and generally publicising the new film season. When he is informed that Cinemateca has run out of funding and that he will be leaving his job immediately, it appears that Jorge’s life has hit rock bottom.
It’s at this point that Veiroj proves himself to be a director of real quality, a member of the Uruguayan class of film-makers that includes Stoll and Rebella but also one with his own unique style. The first half of the film was explicit in showing Jorge’s love for film, but also showing how this love had become something of a labour, especially when trying to promote the films of legendary Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira to a non-existent audience. The second half of the film, after Jorge loses his job is where the camera lens comes alive and Jorge’s love for film manifests itself in some of his over-the-top actions, mirrored in the direction and soundtrack. While watching Jorge in the first half of the film it would be impossible to predict some of his later actions, such as dancing on the stairs or his braggadocio towards his love interest. This is what makes the film so special, as despite being unable to predict these actions, they somehow don’t seem out of place, and fit the story, both in it’s character development scope and as a piece of modern cinema.
To say anymore on how the film comes alive following Jorge losing his job would do the film a disservice, especially as one of the film’s charm is the way that it turns from being a very insular, claustrophobic story to one full of light, music and charm, much like the classics from Hollywood’s Golden Age. If you were impressed by Whisky, or other recent Latin American films like Las Acacias or The Peddler, this is surely a film that you will enjoy immensely, and one which should put Jorge Jellinek on the map as one of Uruguay’s most promising directors.
A Useful Life is a journey into Jorge’s world, from his existence surrounded by film, an existence which has become monotonous from the outside, to the excitement of being thrown out of that world. Through it’s pacing and love of cinema, Veiroj’s film turns out to be a gentle eulogy to films and film-making. A Useful Life is a subtle film at times, but will win you over in the end.
You can see all the UK screenings for this film at http://www.soundsandcolours.com/news/film-news/new-uruguayan-film-a-useful-life-in-uk-cinemas/