Federico Veiroj’s A Useful Life emerged as one of the real discoveries of our 2011 festival. With a rich cinematic eye and admirable compassion for his characters, Veiroj found surprisingly deep wells of humor in his gentle character study of a Montevideo film programmer (!) who buries himself in his work, having few relationships outside of work and even less luck in love. It’s a great joy to find that Veiroj’s talents for warm observation and wry satire extend beyond the subculture of cinephilia, here turning a unique satirical lens on organized religion.
The Apostate introduces us to Gonzalo, a university student struggling to complete his studies. At
odds with his father and in love with his cousin (the matter-of-fact way in which this transgressive detail is explored quite typical of the film’s sensibility), Gonzalo decides to draw a line between past and present. To this end, he petitions the Catholic Church about apostatizing. Determined to have every record of his name struck from the church’s records, Gonzalo navigates a mazelike bureaucracy, encountering at every turn smiling faces that tell him what he wants is possible even as they place new obstacles in his path. As both his determination and his frustration grow, bursts of surreal fantasy enter the picture, taking us into the realm of Saura and the later works of Buñuel.
With at least two major gems under his belt, Veiroj is on a roll. Working in Spain rather than his native Uruguay, The Apostate confirms Veiroj as a major world filmmaker, adept at mining highly specific material for universal pleasures. (Eric Allen Hatch)