Forged in an ultra-dry, Jarmuschian mould, Veiroj’s film is gorgeously bittersweet.
The last year has seen nostalgia for cinema’s golden age return to the big screen in a big way. JJ Abrams attempted to recreate the joys of bespoke moviemaking with Super 8; Martin Scorsese delivered a heartfelt diatribe on film preservation and the joys of cinephilia in Hugo; while Michel Hazanavicius has penned a love letter to the silent greats with The Artist.
"Yay for cinema!" said 2011. Well, 2012 says its time to wake up and smell the burning nitrate. This heartbreaking monochrome miniature from Uruguayan director Federico Veiroj presents a cinémathèque in Montevideo which, alongside its devoted staff, is being swept away with the dust of time.
Dumpy, bespectacled Jorge (real-life film critic Jorge Jellinek) is utterly in thrall to moving pictures. He’s celebrating the centenary of Portuguese filmmaker Manoel de Oliveira with a full retrospective. There’s also a season of new Icelandic films to attend to. And he has to make time for his in-house radio programme, where he happily rambles about the joys of Eisenstein to an audience of, well, who knows?
But Jorge is entering the age of accountability, where fulfilling a cultural remit boils down to numbers on a spreadsheet. His beloved cinema is closed, and he’s forced out of his cinematic fantasy world and onto the mean streets of Montevideo. Maybe he can spend his time cultivating a relationship with one of the cinema’s regular female patrons?
Forged in an ultra-dry, Jarmuschian mould, Veiroj’s film is gorgeously bittersweet; on one hand documenting a seismic shift in the culture of cinema, while on the other declaring that the romantic idealism of the movies might just have important, life-saving, real-world applications.
Though A Useful Life may hit home hardest with those currently working in the world of film programming, production and presentation, it’s not exclusive or elitist about its subject. Celluloid, projectors and taking an obsessive interest in the artistry of framing light on a screen are not long of this world, perhaps, but this film drolly weighs up both the pleasures and frustrations of this antiquated age.
Good word of mouth from a year on the festival circuit.
Catnip for cinephiles.
Cinema is dead! Long live the cinema!