Friday, September 27, 2013

Stories We Tell: In Their Own Words



Stories We Tell was our third documentary in a row at the cinema. It's a good thing it's extensive use of re-enactments puts it somewhere between the non-fiction and fiction categories. Canadian writer/director Sarah Polley is the focal point of this family story. It is basically a quest. Sarah goes, video camera in hand, in search of her stage actor mother Diane who died when she was eleven. It becomes a story about identity, family and relationships that is impossible to explain further without spoiling it.

Diane's second husband is former actor British-born Michael Polley. Michael is very much the film's narrator and gets two bites at reconstructing the past. He reads his version of their history, as well as being interviewed by his daughter.

In fact all the key family members are interviewed at length and so are many others involved in this saga. They are invited to "describe the whole story in your own words". Of course we don't get the complete interviews or the whole story. Clever editing builds the mystery and the tension. There is even a one-line sting in the tail, just when you think you have it all figured out.

There extensive use of home movies, some apparently genuine and others using actors in 're-creations'. You can usually tell which are not 'authentic' - the actors are usually better looking than the people they're playing. She explores the nature of point of view, multiple realities and memory. It is also about who owns the stories. Stories We Tell operates at several levels. It is a meta-documentary for those who like to sift the more abstract layers.

Sarah's mob are impressive. Just subjecting themselves to this examination must have been daunting enough. Handing her control of the story takes real faith. Their participation and cooperation indicate the warmth they feel for her and their trust in her character and her ability as a filmmaker.

Sarah Polley is an auteur of the highest calibre.


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