A Useful Life -- Film Review

A distracted cinephile discovers the pleasures of real life in this charmingly droll comedy.

A "Useful Life" has a clear captive audience: cinephiles and film critics.

This second feature by Federico Veiroj (Acne), the Uruguayan entry for this year's foreign film Oscar, stars real-life critic Jorge Jellinek as a beleaguered programmer for that country's leading arthouse, the Cinemateca Uruguaya.

Running an economical 67 minutes, this lovingly photographed black- and-white effort is both a celebration of cinema and a heartwarming paean to the reality that beckons beyond it.

For most of the film's first half, we witness longtime theater employee Jorge (Jellinek) resolutely going about his duties: tending to the rundown auditorium's badly cushioned seats; repairing failing projectors; eagerly examining newly arrived prints; engaging in meetings with the theater's director (Manuel Martinez Carril, the institution's actual former chief) and hosting a visiting filmmaker.

But it's clear that the theater, like so many others of its ilk, is falling on hard times, the victim of declining audiences and reduced financial support. When it ultimately closes its doors, Jorge is forced to confront a real world with which he is painfully unfamiliar, having difficulty simply attempting to navigate the streets of Montevideo.

Fortunately, he finds hope in the form of Paola (Paoloa Venditto), a university professor and one of the theater's former patrons. Their burgeoning, tentative romance, hinging on Jorge's working up the courage to ask her out on a date, has a lovely, Marty-like quality.

Subtle and understated, A Useful Life consistently displays an appealing, sly wit. Not to mention that it provides hope for possible alternative career opportunities for underemployed film critics and arthouse cinema heads.

Global Film Institute
Production: FiGa Films
Cast: Jorge Jellinek, Manuel Martinez Carril, Paola Venditto
Director/executive producer: Federico Veiroj
Screenwriters: Ines Bortagaray, Arauco Hernandez, Gonzalo Delgado
Producers: Laura Gutman, Juan Jose Lopez
Director of photography: Arauco Hernandez
Editors: Arauco Hernandez, Federico Veiroj
Music: Leo Masliah & Macunaima, Eduardo Fabini
No rating, 67 minutes                    

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