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The Magic of Movies: A TIFF Review of ‘The Movie Teller’

September 27, 2023Ben MK

One of the most magical qualities about movies is their ability to unite people. No matter what our cultural background, socioeconomic status or gender, films have a way of helping us reconcile our various differences. Through movies, not only are we able to learn to see things from the perspective of others, but we can hopefully learn a little bit about ourselves as well. And in The Movie Teller, director Lone Scherfig explores our ongoing love affair with the silver screen, in this period drama about the citizens of a Chilean mining town and, in particular, one girl's affinity for cinema.

The year is 1966, and in this small Atacaman Desert community there isn't much to do on Sundays other than go see a film. Whether it's the local saltpetre miners, their families, or those who help keep the town running, almost everyone makes their way to the local cinema to see the latest from the likes of John Wayne, Audrey Hepburn and Jack Lemmon. It's a tradition for Medardo (Antonio de la Torre), his wife María Magnolia (Bérénice Bejo), and their four young children, María Margarita (Abril Valenzuela), Marcelino (Santiago Urbina), Mauricio (Simón Beltrán) and Mirto (Beltrán Izquierdo). But when Medardo is badly injured in an explosion and can no longer continue working, it quickly becomes clear that they can no longer afford such lavish expenses. Instead, María Margarita becomes her family's de facto movie watcher, tasked with going to the theater and coming back home to reenact the film she's just seen for her parents and siblings. As she grows older, however, María Margarita (Sara Becker) learns that movies can also be an escape from their real-world hardships. Abandoned by their mother and eventually orphaned by the death of their father, the siblings find that there's a big difference between Hollywood fantasy and real life. Yet, in spite of that, María Margarita knows she can always count on films for comfort.

Based on the novel La Contadora de Películas, the result is a touching portrait of one family's struggles that not only highlights the power of movies, but which also exemplifies the resilience of the human spirit and the sacrifices that we'll make for the people we love. Beautifully shot and superbly acted by its cast, The Movie Teller is one of those films that anyone who considers themselves a cinephile will automatically be able to connect with. Most importantly, it's a coming-of-age story that shows that life is what we make of it. And even if a Hollywood ending isn't in the cards, that's no reason to give up on writing the screenplay to our own existence.

The Movie Teller screens under the Special Presentations programme at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival. Its runtime is 1 hr. 56 min.

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