Film – Drama Comedy                    Spain / Chile

Palace Nova, Cinema Place Adelaide Wed 12 Jun    

The Spanish Film Festival is on again at Palace Nova East End Cinemas with another enticing film selection, and opening night featured Chilean/Spanish co-production The Movie Teller by Danish director Lone Scherfig, based on Chilean author Hernan Rivera Letelier’s novel La Contadora de Peliculas.

The film is set in the Atacoma Desert in northern Chile, one of the driest places on Earth, and cinematographer Daniel Aranyo’s opening scenes stunningly capture the bleakness of the landscape – endless dirt roads, dust, and environmental damage from the area’s main industry, saltpetre mining.

This film pays homage to the miners and the harsh existence they and their families endured. An odd setting then for a movie billed as a comedy drama. But the comedy is gentle and tender. With a nod to Cinema Paradiso in tone and central theme, the plot focuses on a young girl coming of age in a family trying to survive against the odds.

Father Medardo (Antonio de la Torre), comes alive at weekends by taking his family – wife Maria Magnolia (Bérénice Bejo) and four children to the cinema. Some humour is shown in the excitement of the cinema owner gleefully making it known what film he will be showing the following week. This one beacon of family happiness is challenged when Medardo is injured and they can only afford to send one family member to the cinema each week. Afterwards it is their duty to relate the film to the rest of the family. There is considerable comedy as each of the three sons in turn prove to be woefully inadequate at this task, but it turns out that the daughter Maria Margarita (luminously played by Alondra Valenzuela) has a compelling gift at recalling and dramatising films. Soon she is not just relating the films to her family but also entertaining a gathered collection of neighbours.

Despite the lightness of touch there are challenging times ahead for all of the characters. Maria Magnolia cannot cope with her reduced circumstances and leaves her husband and children for a presumed brighter future. Her family struggle to deal with this choice. The political undercurrent in Chile brings a sobering subplot. Fast forwarding to young adulthood one brother is trying to organize workers against the capitalist mine owners. It is also the time of the election then death of President Allende and Pinochet’s military coup, which leads to the closing of the mines. Many leave in search of other employment. There is also the arrival of television, making the cinema no longer the community hub and escape it had been.

Throughout it all, Maria Margarita, played as an adult by an also compelling Sarah Becker, keeps the audience engaged while she finds her inner strength. Against all reasonable expectations she chooses to remain until the town has emptied. Returning later with her own daughter she shows us what is left of this once vibrant mining outpost. Powerful closing optics showing a bird’s eye view of the rows of abandoned miners’ huts remind us of the unrelentingly bleakness of this environment.

This is a heartfelt film about the power of story as an escape, with superb acting and cinematography. It is definitely worth seeing.

4.5 Stars

Cathy Tune & Adrian Miller

The Spanish Film Festival continues at Palace Nova East End Cinemas until Wednesday July 10th. For details of session times and to book tickets go to https://spanishfilmfestival.com/

 

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Film - Drama Comedy                    Spain / Chile Palace Nova, Cinema Place Adelaide Wed 12 Jun     The Spanish Film Festival is on again at Palace Nova East End Cinemas with another enticing film selection, and opening night featured Chilean/Spanish co-production The Movie Teller by Danish director Lone Scherfig, based on Chilean author Hernan Rivera Letelier’s novel La Contadora de Peliculas. The film is set in the Atacoma Desert in northern Chile, one of the driest places on Earth, and cinematographer Daniel Aranyo’s opening scenes stunningly capture the bleakness of the landscape – endless dirt roads, dust, and environmental damage from the area’s main industry, saltpetre mining. This film pays homage to the miners and the harsh existence they and their families endured. An odd setting then for a movie billed as a comedy drama. But the comedy is gentle and tender. With a nod to Cinema Paradiso in tone and central theme, the plot focuses on a young girl coming of age in a family trying to survive against the odds. Father Medardo (Antonio de la Torre), comes alive at weekends by taking his family – wife Maria Magnolia (Bérénice Bejo) and four children to the cinema. Some humour is shown in the excitement of the cinema owner gleefully making it known what film he will be showing the following week. This one beacon of family happiness is challenged when Medardo is injured and they can only afford to send one family member to the cinema each week. Afterwards it is their duty to relate the film to the rest of the family. There is considerable comedy as each of the three sons in turn prove to be woefully inadequate at this task, but it turns out that the daughter Maria Margarita (luminously played by Alondra Valenzuela) has a compelling gift at recalling and dramatising films. Soon she is not just relating the films to her family but also entertaining a gathered collection of neighbours. Despite the lightness of touch there are challenging times ahead for all of the characters. Maria Magnolia cannot cope with her reduced circumstances and leaves her husband and children for a presumed brighter future. Her family struggle to deal with this choice. The political undercurrent in Chile brings a sobering subplot. Fast forwarding to young adulthood one brother is trying to organize workers against the capitalist mine owners. It is also the time of the election then death of President Allende and Pinochet’s military coup, which leads to the closing of the mines. Many leave in search of other employment. There is also the arrival of television, making the cinema no longer the community hub and escape it had been. Throughout it all, Maria Margarita, played as an adult by an also compelling Sarah Becker, keeps the audience engaged while she finds her inner strength. Against all reasonable expectations she chooses to remain until the town has emptied. Returning later with her own daughter she shows us what is left of this once vibrant…

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Catherine Tune & Adrian Miller

A heartfelt film about the power of story as an escape, with superb acting and cinematography.

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