Thursday, 19 January 2012

A Useful Life (A vida util)

Federico Veiroj's second full length feature is 70 minutes long. Do not be put off by that short length, the film is short and sweet.

A vida util tells the story of Jorge (Jorge Jellinek) who works at the Uruguayan cinematheque in Montevideo, and shows us how he must adjust to life after the cinema closes where has worked for the last 25 years.  Jorge is a cineaste, an archivist but not a film geek as we watch him and his colleague (Manuel Martinez Cerril).

Jorge can be termed a cineaste, as the director and his writers have been deliberate not to make light of his cinephilia - the first time we see him and Martinez, they are discussing Icelandic filmmakers for a future programme; Jorge has a poster of Kurosawa's Ran in his office and they are currently working on a retrospective of Manoel de Oliveira (the Portugese master).

The film endeavours to treat him not as a geek, and befitting the general stereotype of someone who likes to work in the dark and shy away from the outside world.  He attempts to ask out Paola, a University lecturer who is outside of his social circle but who shares a love of cinema with him.  Paola appears at the cinematheque on Jorge's recommendation.

There is a lightness of Jorge's attempts, whilst she is watching the movie, he is outside in seclusion saying to himself, 'Do you fancy a coffee?' and variations of this line as he motivates himself.  Jorge is a lovely character full of warmth and lightness in spite of his lumbering physical frame, he is quite beguiling at times.
Jorge can join the list of other South American anti-heroes, a hero who is technically an outsider isolated from the world due to his loyalty to his work and he is cut from the same cloth as Lisandro Alonso's characters such as the lonely seamen in Liverpool.

The major plot point concerning the closure of the cinematheque owing to lack of funds from the trustees on the board is dealt with sincerely, as there are genuine fears for the future of many cultural and historical institutions in major cities.  In this case, the capital's once burgeoning cinematheque has to shut due to a lack of renewed membership and the lack of people apparent at screenings speaks volumes - the economy of the script is wonderful.

Once Jorge packs up his things on his last day he takes a bus ride and he becomes a charater in his own feature film as he begins life outside and away from the cinema.  His character is a spy with a bag in need of losing; he orates a speech about lying to unbeknown students who mistake him for a substiute teacher; he dances on marble stairs as if he was Fred Astaire and then manipulates the romantic encounter with Paola that does not come across as weird but rather enchanting.

Originally the film was shot on colour and then transferred back to black and white which lends the film a real lushness and vintage quality, as if it is a relic from a bygone era.  Veiroj does not establish any auteur ticks in regards to editing and flashy camera movements to make the film suffer.

A Useful Life (La vida util) is out now on limited release around the country and can be viewed for another week at the BFI Southbank ( and is distributed by Dogwoof Pictures (

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