A USEFUL LIFE: On General Release Friday 13th January
At a time when your cinema experience might seem incomplete without the adornment of 3D specs, it is refreshing to see a film which encapsulates the opposite sentiment.
A Useful Life is certainly not your usual blockbuster fare. A film by Federico Veiroj, it tells the story of Jorge Jellineka, a Uruguayan film critic who has worked in the Cinemateca for the past twenty-five years. Dedicated to the cause, he is a movie fanatic who is driven by a sense of responsibility to educate others about film, despite a cinema where the equipment is crumbling and the membership rapidly dwindling.
Filmed in colour yet printed in black and white, the slow pace and subtitles of this foreign film might at times result in a few yawns. The inclusion of the credits at the beginning (a decision which is probably revenge on us all who never sit through them at the end…) ensures that it gets off to a bit of a sluggish start. Despite this, and as the film progresses, you might find yourself becoming absorbed in Jorge’s predicament and escalating fear. You will certainly come to realise that most Uruguayans prefer to walk at very dawdling pace… yet eventually, you might also recognise that it is a film which manages to blossom into a subtle and beautifully acted story of a middle-aged man in crisis.
Along with trying to reverse the decision to close the cinema for good, Jorge’s muted attempts to chat up one of the female cinema-goers also falls on deaf ears. Consequently, the second half sees the man leaving the shelter of the movie house behind and entering a world whereby its fantasy seems a distant dream. With delicately amusing scenes of Jorge gate crashing a law lecture and enjoying a rather drawn-out haircut, there is surprising humour. (Also look out for a beautifully played reference to Gene Kelly when he is overcome by the sudden possibilities before him).
Most of the funnies are found in melancholy, and of course they are sly chuckles as opposed to belly laughs. However, the story of Jorge as a man struggling to come to terms with rapid change and a life where he must marry his ingrained sense of cinephilia with a dawning reality proves to be of high-quality.
From its detail in what the daily tasks of a programmer are, to references of the romantic notions he cannot shake, undoubtedly, it is a film for true cinema-lovers. Surprisingly I found A Useful Life to be a bit of an unsung gem and although not one for everyone, it makes a change from the standard throw-everything-and-the-kitchen-sink-at-it special effects spectacular you usually see down your local Vue.