A Life More Useful

in 63rd San Sebastian International Film Festival

by Diego Brodersen

The ApostateWith The Apostate (El apóstata), Uruguayan Federico Veiroj – director of Acné and A Useful Life (La vida útil) – embraces new horizons:  the film was shot in Madrid with a notably Spanish cast. It is mysterious despite its apparently translucent narrative. The main character is a man in his early thirties (the nonprofessional actor and co-writer Álvaro Ogalla, whose real life experiences served as a basis for the script). Somewhat apathetic, his main goal in life seems to be to break free from the lap of the Roman Catholicism that has been imposed on him since his baptism.

That’s why he starts a personal campaign which will eventually reveal itself as complex and bureaucratic, while the camera also joins him in more banal, daily activities: a few rendezvous with his female cousin, with whom he maintains a romance stemming from their childhoods; some meetings with the young son of a neighbour, while helping him to do his school homework; his almost metaphysical denial of finishing his postponed university studies in philosophy. It’s never explicitly revealed, but the world of The Apostate seems to exist in a recent past where mobile phones were neither ubiquitous nor indispensable and physical dictionaries seemed to play a fundamental role in the life of human beings.

It’s hard to describe in such a small space the amount of ideas that circulate within the 80-minute runtime, but if its main subject seems serious and even a little pretentious, the film itself destroys all prejudices with an absolutely light – but nonetheless profound – tone and structure. At some point The Apostate seems to enter Buñelesque territory, particularly after a visit to the university grounds gives way to a surrealistic tableaux where the body in all its nudity transforms itself into the center of the universe: flesh, spirit and intellect. Veiroj’s third effort never lacks a sense of humour and its darts against the ecclesiastic structure and a ritualism that, in many cases, seems to be removed from any kind of dogma, reveal a film that is as eccentric as it is caustic ritualism – at least in Catholic countries. And particularly in an age that seems to have recovered its passion for everything related to the Vatican and its earthly labyrinths and has transformed the Pope himself into some sort of international rock star.

Edited by Amber Wilkinson