Stories We Tell

Stories We Tell


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Sarah Polley has always been interested in the shifting sands of relationships. Away From Her, with its tale of a slip into Alzheimer's, explored the way in which the narrative of a life can gradually disappear to be replaced by a new one, while Take This Waltz focused on a woman torn between two story paths her life could take. Here, she reflects on the relationships in her own family, emphasising the documentarian's artifice from the get go, by letting you see the lights her family members are put under, the microphones poised to capture what they say.

"Are you nervous?" she asks one of them. "A little." "It'll get worse."

Her dad, meanwhile, reads from a script written by himself, sometimes being asked to repeat a line or two as Polley again shows us how her directorial control invades everything we see. The stories she is telling are those that belong to dad Michael and her mum Diane, he a British actor with a love of solitude and a sharp wit, she an actress who is described by her friends and our unreliable narrators as having "no guile" and being "a woman of secrets". Diane, unfortunately, cannot confirm or deny her personality traits, as she died from cancer when Sarah - a late baby in the Polley household - was just 11.

Even with Michael, Polley's sisters Susy and Joanna and her brothers Mark and John adding their recollections, plus a plethora of other thoughts from friends and more distant relatives, Diane remains fiercely enigmatic. Polley illustrates these remembrances with home videos and photographs, probing at ideas of what is fact and what is fiction.

To say much more about the content of the film would be to spoil what ought to be an experience worked through by each viewer independently, there are secrets, manipulation and the games people play here but I'd rather let Polley show you which is which.

What is not in doubt is the raw emotion in this work - from Polley quivering with nervous energy as she watches her father read some of the more revelatory pieces of script - to the visible impact airing the family's dirty linen in public has on her siblings. There is also a sense of the documentary as catalyst, as though somehow, by telling these stories to one another, the ongoing narratives of the family's lives have been irrevocably changed.

Reviewed on: 23 Jun 2013
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Sarah Polley investigates secrets in her own family.
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Director: Sarah Polley

Writer: Sarah Polley, Michael Polley

Starring: Michael Polley, Harry Gulkin, Susy Buchan, John Buchan, Mark Polley, Joanna Polley, Cathy Gulkin, Marie Murphy, Robert MacMillan, Anne Tait, Deirdre Bowen, Victoria Mitchell, Mort Ransen, Geoffrey Bowes, Tom Butler

Year: 2012

Runtime: 108 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted

Country: Canada

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