1st Nov, 2021

Variety by Leo Barraclough

Bérénice Bejo, Oscar nominated for “The Artist,” and two-time Goya winner Antonio de la Torre are to star in “The Movie Teller,” which is to be directed by Lone Scherfig, a BAFTA nominee with “An Education.” Embankment is launching worldwide sales on the Spanish-language film at the virtual AFM.

Walter Salles, a BAFTA winner with “The Motorcycle Diaries” and “Central Station,” and Rafa Russo have adapted Hernán Rivera Letelier’s novel, which is the story of life in a mining town in Chile’s Atacama Desert, and a tribute to the inspirational power of cinema, reminiscent of “Cinema Paradiso.”

The film is produced by Adolfo Blanco (“The Bookshop”) of A Contracorriente Films and Vincent Juillerat of Selenium Films and Al Tiro Films. Embankment is an executive producer, and co-represents Latin American rights with Latido Films. It shoots in the Atacama Desert in the first quarter of next year.

Bejo stars as María Magnolia, a woman who defiantly chases her creative ambitions, despite the hardships of life in the harsh yet beautiful Atacama Desert during the 1960s. She inspires in her daughter María Margarita (played by newcomer Sara Becker) a passion for cinema and, in a town where many families are unable to afford tickets to the cinema, María Margarita soon becomes the resident “movie teller,” re-telling the stories of the movies only she has seen.

Through the girl’s fertile imagination, cinema’s classics come alive for her people, inspiring them with hope and reflecting their own struggle in her stories of drama, humor, adventure, romance and courage.

Scherfig said: “The movie is about the survival of one of the greatest human assets – our expansive imagination and shared language. Fascination, knowledge, fear, anger, love and fun: ‘The Movie Teller’ is highly relevant, primarily in illuminating the life of a neglected child growing up in poverty, one child amongst hundreds of millions today.”

She added: “The movie also reflects the magic role of storytelling on the stage and on the big screen – as a window to the world, as a place of healing as well as a place that unites people.”

Heads of department for the film include production designer Carlos Conti (“The Kite Runner,” “The Motorcycle Diaries”), composer Fernando Velázquez (“A Monster Calls,” “Crimson Peak,” “The Impossible”) and costume designer Mercé Paloma (“The Bookshop”).

Letelier grew up and worked for many years in the mining community of the Atacama Desert, before he wrote his debut novel “La Reina Isabel Cantaba Rancheras.” His best-known novel, “La Contadora de Películas” (“The Movie Teller”) has been translated into 19 languages.

Embankment partner Tim Haslam said the film is “an epic family story, set in an extraordinary environment.” He added: “For anyone in the audience, there is a bit of them in every single person in this story. It is highly relatable.”

The film is the sales agency’s second foreign-language film following David Pujol’s “Waiting for Dali.” Haslam said foreign-language films no longer pose a barrier for cinemagoers; only the storytelling matters. “That’s what is so exciting about the global market now, and it is something the streamers have helped us with,” he said. “We just follow the storytelling.”

Scherfig’s take on the project was, “You’re in this hostile environment, living with a family and the people around them in deep, warmest empathy … there is nothing more cinematic,” Haslam said.

“The Bookshop” director Isabel Coixet was previously linked to the project.