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Stories We Tell

March 12, 2014

Stories We Tell (2012)
Director: Sarah Polley

sarah-polley.jpg (268×188)

Synopsis: A filmic enquiry by Canadian actor-director, Sarah Polley, into the life of her late mother, leads her into a startling discovery about the true identity of her father….

Review: This moving and technically impressive ‘confessional’ documentary from Sarah Polley perhaps doesn’t quite live up to its remarkably ambitious remit of providing a quasi-Derridan deconstructionist enquiry into her family history. That said, Polley gives it a noble shot, and she’s undoubtedly helped by the compelling raw materials she has at her disposal: a) a shared family recollection of the life and spirit of her fascinating late mother, Diane Polley, and b) in following a thread about an acting sojourn Diane took in Montreal in the late Seventies, Polley wittingly/unwittingly stumbles across a sensational development about her own paternity.

Beyond the alluring subject matter itself, Polley also revels in the telling of that story. We have frank talking heads from all the ‘players’ in the lives of Diane and Sarah Polley (especially important in relation to Polley’s siblings, because all their differing fathers, and henceforth ‘perspectives’, subtly transmits the necessarily subjective tone of Polley’s thesis). Polley even includes staggeringly brazen Super 8 pastiches of the stories her family tell (especially of Diane and Harry Gulkin’s courtship in Montreal). What I find interesting about these pastiches is how it initially seems distasteful of Polley to be archly ‘dramatising’ the story of her late mother and paternity (in essence, her own ‘conception’), but it must have actually been an extremely brave and poignant directorial decision for Polley to make (incidentally, some supposedly professional film journalists failed to even notice that much of Stories We Tell featured recreations, taking it as gospel that all the recorded footage was in fact ‘real’)!

My only slight problem with Stories We Tell, and where I think Polley trips up on her own pretensions, is that she does overdose on her postmodern/’unreliability of stories’ angle a bit too much, when there is in essence little about the story of Diane Polley and Sarah Polley’s paternity that anyone disagrees on.  Still, Stories We Tell is a salutary reminder that for all great artists, they often need to use every drop of pain from their personal life – to the point of near self-exploitation – to tell their story. (March 2014)

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