A Useful Life [ 2.5 stars ]

There are many films, that on the surface, have a tantalising story that instantly instills a sense of nostalgia into my heart.
‘A Useful Life’ (La Vida util) is one of those films.

It’s the story of a film projectionist, deeply passionate about the history of cinema, slowly watching his beloved picture palace erode under financial and structural defeat.  He realises that soon, all that he is passionate about, and all that has kept him going, will slowly be leaving his life.

Directed by Frederick Veiroj, ‘A Useful Life’ is shot in black and white, creating a grainy, retrospective feel of an inevitable ending.   The look of the film, conjures up memories of Italian dramas from the 1950’s – that lush loud audio, slightly shifting camera work, and occasional scenes of characters expressing their love through movement and dance.

The film does change course at the half way mark, bringing a subplot to the fore, that may disappoint some viewers.  But in essence Veiroj’s decision to make the bold change only drives home further the yearning for things past.

Time moves on for the film projectionist, (played by Jorge Jellinek) and so decisions must be made about what to divert his passion and love towards.  
I found ‘A Useful Life’ at times very charming.  It’s hard to resist a main character who loves his cinema so much, he personally sits on each chair to test for its structural sturdiness.  The first half of the film includes subtle yet effective homages to silent films, and how some cinemas still resist the temptation of commercialisation. 

‘A Useful Life’ was Uruguay’s submission for Academy consideration at the 2011 Oscars.  It didn’t make the final list of 5 films up for the award.  Yet the first 40 minutes of  ‘A Useful Life’ is a deep, rich love letter to cinema and loss,  that still resonates in my mind and heart long after its viewing. The remaining 30 minutes of the film lacked the emotional connection that had been built up.

 

Director:  Frederick Veiroj
Country:  Uruguay
Runtime: 70 minutes
Score: 2.5 stars 

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