A Useful Life / La vida útil (2010)
Dir: Federico Veiroj
A simple little film from Uruguay that has the original language tagline ‘un cuento de cine’ which loosely translates as ‘A story of cinema’, and that’s what it is, a story about one man and his love of cinema.
This film follows the life of cinema worker Jorge, whose life for the past 25 years has been working in what might be described as an ‘arts’ cinema, projecting classics retrospectives and work by newer emerging directors. Jorge also hosts a regular radio slot to promote the cinema, which it turns out is struggling financially with a troubling drop in patrons. So, when it is forced to close, Jorge sets out on a new challenge, winning over the woman he likes.
According to the TV announcer, this was shot in colour but then transferred to a black and white print and in 4:3, making it really reminiscent of older ‘classic’ cinema.
The film shows lovely aspects of his work, in that he’s not just a projectionist but also records announcements for the tannoy, introduces films, and all the staff are shown to really understand what it is they do, they have a good grasp of the equipment and how it affects the film being shown. Also Jorge’s radio show demonstrates a real appreciation for cinema, in one scene his guest takes the chance to deliver a bit of a monologue on what it really means to be a cinephile.
Jorge’s life after the cinema closes is very different, and starts to feel like a little montage of film scenarios, wandering into a university lecture and pretending to be the stand-in, throwing coins into a wishing-well, asking the woman he likes out on a date, all this beautifully accompanied by classic film style music. It then ends as all classic films should, with ‘Fin’.
I like how this shows the real skill involved in getting films projected properly onto cinema screens, sadly an art that is diminishing with the automated systems taking over multiplexes especially. This would go nicely as a double-bill with ‘The Last projectionist’, a documentary about that issue that came out last year.
It’s really a very sweet little film, and at just 70 minute running time, it really is a ‘little’ film. There are no huge action sequences, big name stars, or special effects. Rather a focus on just telling a small story and paying homage to classic cinema.