A passionate advocate of the Montevideo cinematheque embarks on a period of self-discovery when his beloved cinema institution is forced to close its doors.

By
1 Jan 2009 - 12:00 AM  UPDATED 1 Jan 2009 - 12:00 AM

4
.A love letter to cinematic conventions

MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: A Uruguayan film curator is forced out of the darkness of the cinema and into the warm glow of his own reality in Federico Veiroj’s A Useful Life, a love letter to film language and the romantic legacy that lingers after the house lights go up.

After 25 years as the co-manager of the Uruguayan Cinemateca, Jorge (played by real-life film critic Jorge Jellinek) is forced out of his crumbling silver screen paradise when its philanthropic funders pull their support, and an eviction notice is enforced. After a quarter century spent viewing the world from other people’s filmed perspectives, Jorge is forced to walk a new path on the streets of Montevideo.

Jorge has known no other existence outside of his projection booth, the film archive and the pokey, dusty office, which he shared with fellow film tragic Martinez (Manuel Martinez Carril). His days are spent programming a Manoel de Oliveira retrospective, apologising to a visiting filmmaker for the tiniest of technical glitches, and checking the springs in the auditoriums seating. Jorge’s casting-out onto the streets of the city is initially daunting, but by injecting a litt

The pleasures of Veiroj’s film are two-fold and will be deeply appreciated by film festival audiences. It is a sweetly-told romantic tale – between a man and the magic of cinema, a man and his dream girl (lecturer Paola, Paola Venditto), a man and his life; all told, it’s the kind of giddy love that only manifests in movies.

The love of film language is difficult to articulate; thus when Martinez delivers a long speech on the nature of what is truly magical about cinema – citing Russian directing great Sergei Eisenstein’s use of Prokofiev’s music and the majestic structure of Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane – audience attention may wander. But the scene slyly foreshadows Jorge’s rebirth into the glare of a new reality and the not-so-subtle visual cues Veiroj employs to convey the man’s growth – Jorge’s tentative first steps from the centre of a busy traffic island; his decision to abandon the suitcase he has carried with him for no apparent reason; his determined walk against the faceless masses to get to his heart’s desire. By the time Jorge indulges in an impromptu Fred Astaire-like dance on the steps of Paola’s university, the cinematic lyricism and overt symbolism of his plight all but ensures the classic 'happy ending’.

Federico Veiroj’s film forgoes a tidy narrative structure as western cinema audiences know it to be, even though it adopts recognisable conventions. A Useful Life exists for filmgoers to feel good about being filmgoers; to provide validation for all those romantic notions movie lovers entertain as they sit in the dark for huge chunks of their (our) lives. Veiroj honours the belief in the lies that cinema tells, reassuring us it is not a waste of time. As Jorge pleads, 'Let’s rid the world of the truth that is rotting it." For Jorge, and for the patron who will seek out a film such as this one, a life spent believing in the spirit of cinema is indeed a useful one.

Details

1 hour 7 min

Genres