The most fruitful branches of narrative cinema are those with roots in the nourishing soil of the everyday. Although Hollywood seems to have forgotten this, contemporary Latin American cinema certainly has not. A film-programmer-turned-director, Federico Veiroj (born in Montevideo, Uruguay in 1976) is one of a cohort whose work renews the possibilities for, and varieties of, realism in filmmaking today, alongside Lisandro Alonso’s enigmatic and uncanny slices-of-life, Nicolás Pereda’s absurdist neorealism, and the variations in magic realism from Martín Rejtman and Lucrecia Martel.
Veiroj’s films fit somewhere alongside Fernando Eimbcke’s coming-of-age novellas, on the one hand, and, on the other, Matias Piñeiro’s poetic tales of love and art. Each of Veiroj’s three feature films to date tell apparently simple stories about men, from adolescence to middle age, trying to find their place in the world. But each film introduces ripples that disturb their seeming straightforwardness, in the form of unresolved tensions, mysterious narrative gaps, or ambiguities that may indicate shifts to fantasy. If he seems drawn to stories that usually lead toward a climactic epiphany, as in the films of Eric Rohmer, Veiroj typically complicates the forward motion by raising questions about the social context his protagonists inhabit and how, why and whether they can accommodate it.
At the same time, these films exhibit a great tenderness towards their characters and a belief that cinema’s reflections of the world can provide solace and meaning even in the face of commodification and hypocrisy. – David Pendleton
This retrospective is cosponsored by the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies (DRCLAS). Special thanks: Paola Ibarra – DRCLAS
Directed by Federico Veiroj. With Alejandro Tocar, Ana Julia Catalá, Gustavo Melnik
Uruguay 2008, 35mm, color, 87 min. Spanish with English subtitles
Acne centers on thirteen-year-old Rafael on the eve of his bar mitzvah in contemporary Montevideo. The American coming-of-age film often centers on tragicomic attempts to lose one’s virginity, but for Rafael, that is easily accomplished by a trip to the brothel. What he finds more complicated is making his peace with a highly imperfect, even corrupt, family, and with an invisible but seemingly undeniable set of constricting expectations about gender and relations between the sexes. That Acne, Veiroj’s feature debut, is also his most conventional film is not so surprising, but it does hint at the limitations of its genre. Where Hollywood places its emphasis on the integration of the adolescent into society, Veiroj suggests a more modern question (“Is it the individual who should change, or society?”) with the lightest of humor and the gentlest of touches. Print courtesy Filmor Num Paris.
Directed by Daniel Hendler & Federico Veiroj
Uruguay 2001, DCP, color & b/w, 14 min. Spanish with English subtitles
A deceptively straightforward parable lies at the heart of this tender and delicate film about the triangular relationship among the moviegoer, daily life and the cinema. Cinephiles curious about the day-to-day tasks of a film programmer will be fascinated by A Useful Life’s behind-the-scenes look at the Uruguayan Cinematheque as it strives to keep its doors open. Ultimately the film comes to focus on the struggle of a middle-aged curator to define himself outside of the office—meaning, in this case, outside the movie theater. Veiroj’s composition of the frame and his use of editing and mise-en-scène recall the filmmaking of the mid-twentieth century, somewhere between prewar classical style and the revolutions of the New Waves, a period that retained a touching curiosity about the world and a robust faith in cinema’s ability to explore everyday reality.
Directed by Federico Veiroj
US/Uruguay 1998, DCP, b/w, 3 min
DCP courtesy Viennale
Directed by Federico Veiroj & Omer Avarkan
US/Uruguay 1998, DCP, color, 4 min. Japanese with English subtitles
DCP courtesy Viennale
Directed by Federico Veiroj. With Álvaro Ogalla, Marta Larralde, Vicky Peña
Spain/France/Uruguay 2015, DCP, color, 80 min. Spanish with English subtitles
Veiroj’s most recent feature film balances comedy, fantasy and drama to illustrate the crisis of a young man struggling to become an adult in the face of a social landscape strewn with outmoded ideas and oppressive institutions. The film’s protagonist, a young Spaniard named Gonzalo, is an apostate in the most literal sense, as he devotes considerable time and energy to having his name removed from the baptismal records of a church that means nothing to him. This struggle, however, is clearly a cover for Gonzalo’s real crisis: an encroaching adulthood that will require him to clarify not his standing with the Church but his relations with his family and neighbors. The film’s combination of subtle, witty critique and sometimes-otherworldly flights of fancy is reminiscent, and worthy, of Buñuel. DCP courtesy FiGa Films.
Directed by Federico Veiroj & Damien Huyghe
US/Uruguay 2001, DCP, color, 10 min. Spanish with English subtitles
DCP courtesy Viennale