A Useful Life
Life imitating art’ is an overused cliché but nevertheless a damn useful one for film reviewers. Federico Veiroj’s A USEFUL LIFE’ begins with a very small audience queuing up for an arty foreign-language movie in a city cinemateque. Ring any bells? The film stars Jorge Jellinek (a Montevideo-based movie critic in real life) playing the namesake director of an arty movie house in the Uruguayan capital.
In grainy monochrome, we witness the last days of Jorge’s cine arthouse: membership is drying up, the equipment is falling apart, the seats are broken and worse of all, the Foundation supporting the film club is withdrawing its money from the loss-making venture. It is the end of an era: a ‘Cinema Paradiso out of ‘Last Picture Show with hints of ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’.
Jorge and his team engage in laborious debates about the nature of cinema, and joyless discussions about projector lamps. For Jorge, cinema has become remote and frankly boring. Veiroj takes risks in showing us the aridity of Jorge’s cine world. But stick with it – the film more than packs a rather wonderful philosophical punch in its second half.
The first half moves at a suitably arty snail’s pace, long lingering shots of nothing much in particular – a wry homage to all the serious art films you have watched.
Though the film retains its grainy black and white quality, Jorge’s world is about to burst into colour. He (and through his eyes, we) begin to appreciate the restorative effect of cinema – not as something you passively watch or debate over, but something you actually do in response. Cinema can empower. Cinema gets into the blood stream and can change your life as powerfully as any drug. There is a telling moment early in the film, when Jorge’s tells a would-be girlfriend to trust in the seemingly dull movie she has just seen, ‘It will stick with you”. This short and at times strange film will do just that and further, show you that sometimes, art imitates life.
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