NEWS: A ‘Useful’ Guide to Uruguayan Cinema

Brian Darr (of Hell on Frisco Bay) reviews A USEFUL LIFE for Fandor and shines a spotlight on Uruguayan Cinema while he’s at it… 

Last month Brian Darr, the writer behind Bay Area film blog Hell on Frisco Bay, wrote an excellent article called “A ‘Useful’ Guide to Uruguayan Cinema” for Keyframe, the blog from our friends at Fandor. In the article, Brian makes some illuminating observations about Federico Veiroj’s A USEFUL LIFE, segues into a discussion of the history of filmmaking in Uruguay, and then closes by touching on a couple other Global Lens favorites — WHISKY (dir. Juan Pablo Rebella and Pablo Stoll) and LEO’S ROOM (dir. Enrique Buchichio). Check it out:

(via Brian Darr, Keyframe) A USEFUL LIFE is the kind of film that makes applying a concept like “progress” to an art form appear terribly naïve. Set and shot largely in the actual Cinemateca Uruguay, one of the longest standing film societies in South America, and drawing much of its cast from non-actors among the real Montevideo film community, this 2010 release evokes the whole history of cinema and of Uruguay’s small part in perpetuating it. But it contains far more complicated attitudes toward traditional cinephilia than one would expect a 67-minute film on this theme to be able to carry.

A scene from Federico Veiroj’s A Useful Life

The story follows Jorge (played by film critic Jorge Jellinek), a middle-aged associate film programmer, projectionist and all-around factotum at an old-school cinematheque much like any other found in cities around the globe. His activities in the first half of the film may induce the pleasure of recognition among frequenters of such places. In the opening sequence, Jorge and his boss (Cinemateca Uruguay director Manuel Martínez Carril, essentially playing himself) divide DVD-watching responsibilities to prepare a program of Icelandic films, until they are interrupted by a mysterious telegram delivery. Jorge goes about his duties retrieving reels from archive shelves, recording promotional spots for the radio, etc. He shows a deeper, existential concern for the institution at the next staff meeting when he interrupts a conversation about malfunctioning projectors to mention the telegram. Though it regards eight months’ worth of unpaid back rent, his coworkers brush the issue off and resume their discussion, to Jorge’s visible consternation.

With the shadow of financial collapse looming over Jorge’s place of employment, the audience is invited to second guess the necessity of every cinephilic ritual we see performed in the film, down to testing the seats for squeaks. At the same time, we learn more details about Jorge’s life: That after 25 years of working at the cinematheque, he still lives at home with his father, and that he has his eye on a pretty law professor who occasionally attends his screenings. Alone among his colleagues, Jorge has made obvious sacrifices in his life in order to devote himself to cinema. So when, midway through the movie, the curtain closes on the screens he has so faithfully attended to, we are not surprised to follow Jorge on his new journeys away from the cinema, and forget about Martínez and the rest.

The first half of A Useful Life is fascinating and beautiful, but at the midway point it really takes off, narratively and cinematically…

Read “A ‘Useful’ Guide to Uruguayan Cinema” in its entirety on Keyframe–the Fandor blog.

A USEFUL LIFE originally appeared in the Global Lens 2011 film series, along with Veiroj’s short film AS FOLLOWS. The Global Film Initiative also provided production funds to his debut feature ACNE in 2006. You can watch A USEFUL LIFE and many other films from the Global Lens Collection right this very moment on Fandor — where great movies live (and they’re not lying).
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