Thursday, September 30, 2010

TIFF10 Review: A Useful Life

A Useful Life

When seeing four films back to back, in a film festival setting, sometimes it is the shortest film that often seems like the longest, as was the case with A Useful Life. The film clocks in at a scant 67 minute running time yet it felt like the longest film I saw during my four film packed day. While I am willing to acknowledge that my late nights, early morning film schedule may have played a minor role in this A Useful Life should have been the film to curb my weary state. Especially since the film is about one of my favourite subjects of all, the importance of film and cinema.

Jorge (Jorge Jellinek) lives for the cinema, he spends his days working as a programmer for a local cinematheque in Montevideo. For Jorge there is nothing more pleasurable than sharing his love of film with others. After working at the cinematheque for over 20 years Jorge has become the heart that keeps the whole production running smoothly. Whether it is fixing the seats, recording radio promos, pulling the films out of the archives, or providing insightful introduction before screenings, Jorge has done it all. Jorge’s world begins to unravel when the board members of the foundation which funds the cimemathaque decide that they are no longer supporting ventures at the cinema because they do not turn a profit. With the inevitable closing of the cinematheque, Jorge struggles to figure out how he is to live without the one thing he loves the most.

Directed by Federico Veiroj, A Useful Life follows a long line of films that pay homage to the days when going to the theatre was about the films themselves. The importance was placed on the stories and the filmmakers instead of how much money a film made on a particular weekend, or what franchise can the film be spun into. A Useful Life also offers commentary on many modern day film buffs, and dare I say bloggers, by stating that being a cinephile is not about how many movies you have seen, or which director/actor’s filmography you can list off at a whim. A true film lover is one who is able to hear the rhythm of the film itself and understand what the director is trying to say.

Unfortunately Veiroj’s own film begins to lose its own rhythm in the second half. What starts off as a passionate homage to cinema gets rather muddled in its own ideas. Similar to its lead character, who wanders the streets of Montevideo in a despondent state, A Useful Life’s story does not seem to know where it wants to go in the latter half of the film. The idea of Jorge deciding to turn is life into a movie in which he is the star and gets the girl never is fully realized in the film. There are too many moments that, while sometimes entertaining, never gel well with the rest of the film. Most notably the hilarious but utterly pointless scene where Jorge pretends to be a substitute teacher at a law school and give the students a lecture on the importance of being able to lie. Also, similar to Quentin Tarantino at times, Veiroj overindulges when it comes to displaying his vast knowledge of cinema. There are points where even his use of sound and music gets overwhelming and annoying.

If A Useful Life was to be judged solely on its first half then it would be worth recommended as a love letter to cinema. Unfortunately, it is the plodding and messy second half that ultimately hurts this film. A Useful Life will most likely appeal to the hardcore cinephiles yet, with films like Cinema Paradiso and Goodbye, Dragon Inn available on DVD, ther are far better options than A Useful Life.

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