Tuesday, November 01, 2011
A Useful Life
A stubbornly nostalgic valentine to those who answer the siren call of the cinema, the film is set in a real-life cinematheque in Uruguay. A Useful Life toys with time, creating pleasant confusion as to when the story is meant to have taken place. Its black-and-white imagery and vintage-looking production design recall films of the '60s, while hints of the more modern accoutrements of city life sneak in.
A Useful Life stars established Uruguayan film critic Jorge Jellinek in the role of a devoted cinematheque manager of the same first name. The first half of the film follows Jorge as he goes about his mundane daily routine, from tearing ticket stubs to repairing wobbly theater seats. He’s a 40-something man frozen in time and emotion, somewhat content in the comfort of his routine, but also yearning for a connection outside of his cinema cocoon.
Despite the humble simplicity of the film’s production values and the noticeable stiffness of its less-than-seasoned actors, director/co-writer Federico Veiroj is able to sweetly honor the sweat ethic of the erudite. In one dryly funny scene, Jorge conducts a radio interview that seems to bore even him in its earnest detail. There’s a sly wink in this moment of the “too smart for your own good” dilemma that those in the higher echelons of film discussion have to defend themselves against. (The death of film criticism due to overconsumption of cultural vegetables!)
When news comes to Jorge that the future of the theater he has so meticulously maintained is at risk, he’s triggered into some surprisingly impetuous actions, including a little soft-shoe that smilingly brings to mind silent films of yore. With its more light-hearted last third that manages to percolate some hope amongst the heartbreak, A Useful Life is a delightful reminder that while the particulars of the relationship may morph, a true movie lover’s romance with film is an amaranthine affair.