Stories We Tell, the movie

27 Jun

Mike and I went to Park Terrace a couple of weeks ago to see Stories We Tell, by Sarah Polley. This is a documentary that is also a documentary within a documentary, which has become a more common format these days. The self-conscious documentary filmmaker has struck me as conceited in the past but it’s not conceited here. Sarah Polley is, more or less, telling the story of her search for a father, and she equally involves her four siblings as well as the father who raised her, to help tell the story, as well as many other people who were involved in her family’s life over the years.

stories-we-tell-movie-posterStories We Tell focuses on Sarah’s mom, Diane Polley, and her secret affair. An interesting aspect about this film is that the subject is not just about the filmmaker and her quest to find the truth, and it is not just about her mother Diane, although her mother is the main focus. As the title suggests, the grander theme of this film is about how stories are told, how they are formed from real life and filtered through the memory, and how true events look different from different perspectives. The events that make up this story are quite striking, and about every thirty minutes, another layer to the plot unfolds, so we don’t get bored at all. Polley does a great job of weaving the interviews together along with a reenactment. The reenactment seemed cheesy for a moment, but then it didn’t.  What else are you going to watch while listening to people tell a story? The reenactment ends up looking pretty good as it mimics seventies style footage with a subtly scratchy effect and a richer, thicker color that we now associate with that stuff called film. There is a small bit of footage of the real Diane, which is nice to see. The film seems a bit long in the second half, but ends up being worth it. I do have to say, the very last scene (more of a shot really) in the film is completely unnecessary and confusing, and so Mike and I decided to ignore it. I think they were trying to add humor to balance the heaviness, but it was completely dumb.

I loved seeing a personal documentary such as this one, with the filmmaker being involved, and interviewing her family. Interviewers often seem so harsh in their questioning, and even cruel, and it is fascinating to watch Polley and her family interact. Her father (one of them) says to her at one point, ” What are you, some kind of sadistic interviewer?”. She comes from an acting family however, so they seem to understand.

The real gem in this story is getting to know Polley’s first father, the one who raised her and was believed to be her biological father. Without giving too much away, he makes friends with flies, and is inspired to write again after a lifetime of ignoring his talent. Mike and I both teared up a bit, somewhere in the middle. I often cry at the movies, but Mike never does.

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