Sunday 12 July 2020

A Useful Life (La Vida Útil) [2010]

While cinephilia can have diverse hues and forms, nostalgia for a lost way of life has usually been a connecting thread – from the rapturous Goodbye, Dragon Inn and the sultry Miss Lovely to the sentimental Cinema Paradiso and the sensuous The Dreamers. Federico Veiroj aimed his lens on the cloistered and fast disappearing world of film societies and curators in his deadpan, exquisitely metatextual, quietly charming, deceptively low-key, and elegiac A Useful Life. Jorge (Jorge Jellinek, a film critic himself) is a shy, reclusive, portly man who’s been working for 25 years at Montevideo’s Cinemateca Uruguaya – a once revered institution that’s now struggling due to dwindling participation. He manages everything in a good day’s work – sifting through DVD submissions with his boss (played by former Cinematica head Manuel Martínez Carril), planning a Manoel de Oliveira retrospective, preparing scholarly radio clips on discourses over Eisenstein’s use of Prokofiev’s music and Citizen Kane’s structure, changing reels and providing dubbing during screenings, cataloguing archives, discussing operational priorities during meetings, greeting arthouse patrons and independent filmmaker, seeking contributions, and even checking the cushioning of seats. However, his insular life collapses when the cinematheque's financial backers pull the plug, leading to both wryly melancholic existential crises, including over something as banal as crossing the streets or getting a haircut, and an exuberant attempt – in a cheeky expression of life imitating art – at going on a movie date with a law professor (Paola Venditto). In a hilarious moment, he even quotes from Mark Twain’s essay on the art of lying to a bemused audience. And, the film’s delightful self-reflexivity wasn’t just limited to the actors, as Veiroj himself was once employed with the Uruguayan Cinematheque.

Director: Federico Veiroj
Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama
Language: Spanish
Country: Uruguay

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