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Margot (Michelle Williams) and Daniel (Luke Kirby) in Take This Waltz. (Michael Gibson)
Margot (Michelle Williams) and Daniel (Luke Kirby) in Take This Waltz. (Michael Gibson)

Globe editorial

Sarah Polley’s lesson to filmmakers: Toronto can look magical, too Add to ...

Early-morning coffee in Kensington Market. An evening date at the Royal Theatre. A drive downtown from Pearson Airport, a ferry ride to Centre Island, a sprint along Queen Street West.

It takes some work to make these experiences seem extraordinary to Torontonians, or relevant to anyone else. But then, the magic of big-screen cinema is not to be underestimated.

Like Vancouverites, Torontonians are used to seeing their city stand in for U.S. locations in major Hollywood releases. And even when films are nominally set here, it is almost apologetically so – our cities made to look generic to appeal to broader audiences, or else homely enough to cater to some peculiarly Canadian sense of modesty.

Take This Waltz, a wrenching romantic drama by actor-turned director Sarah Polley that is playing in theatres nationwide and has just opened in major U.S. markets, is the exception to the rule – and a reminder to other filmmakers, Canadian or not, that there is no shame in immortalizing the places we call home.

It’s possible that Toronto has never looked better on film. Credit, in part, the film’s gorgeous summer lighting. But credit, too, a filmmaker who is comfortable enough in her own city to see a romance that others often miss, and to share it with her audience without being too self-conscious about it, the locations serving the story rather than the reverse.

While Torontonians may be unable to resist noting some geographic inconsistencies (characters seem to travel between different neighbourhoods awfully quickly), such liberties are usual in film and a small sacrifice.

Even if not always fully representative of living experiences, films (and other forms of popular culture) help shape our images and impressions; they are a big part of the reason many people feel familiar with New York City, or Los Angeles, or Miami, even if they’ve seldom or never been to those places. Although it would be a shade ambitious to expect Toronto or other Canadian cities to achieve that status, a film like Take This Waltz opens up the possibility of creating a little larger-than-life mystique of our own.

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