Stories We Tell: Movie Review
Cast: Sarah Polley, Michael Polley, The Polley family, extended friends of the Polley family
Director: Sarah Polley
The tangled family life of one of Canada's most respected young actors comes under the spotlight in this documentary, which in some ways, defies description and expectation.
Turning the camera on herself, Polley investigates the life of her family - her mother specifically - and how stories change when told by different people and from different perspectives.
Employing the adroitness of someone who would appear to have been doing this for a while, Polley manages to coax the best out of her subjects while sticking to an idea of what exactly she wants from this film. Initially, there's a swirl of confusion as you're overwhelmed by apparent archive footage of her mother at key moments from before Sarah was around.
However, it's here that Polley starts to mess with expectations of the traditional doco and blur the lines between fact and reality - as told by storytellers. Narrating the piece is her father, Michael, an actor who's dry sense of humour is evident throughout - and Polley manages to manipulate this at times by having her father re-read some lines of dialogue as it's recorded, subtly using those moments to emphasise the point she is trying to make.
In fact, her subjects at times seem a little befuddled by what's going on, with one asking "I hope you'll explain what you're trying to do" as the investigation into her past digs deeper. While I'd love to discuss the finer points of what transpires, aside from those being spoilers for those who know not of Polley's complicated life, part of the joy of this doco is watching it play out, as small emotional bombs explode amid the Canadian trademark humour.
The journey is a smartly executed one, with Polley's recreations of her mother's younger years and her examinations getting beneath your skin as she subverts the traditional trajectory of a documentary, mashing the fourth wall and her subjects together and ending up with something that's quite breathlessly different. Though there is a slight sense of feeling robbed when the reveal comes that the Super 8 footage that proffers an insight into a life aren't quite what they're cracked up to be.
The revelations within are more pertinent to her family, than an universal truth to be applied to us all, but the way Sarah looks at how stories are informed within a generation of an acting family is a clever insight into life behind the screen, even if differing sides of the story aren't actually brought to the table.
Stories We Tell remains a fascinating experiment, and a genre defying piece for the documentary field.