Wednesday, 25 September 2013
FILM REVIEW: STORIES WE TELL
Family. Everyone's got one and every one of them has skeletons. Just how deeply they're buried, and just how shocking they are when unearthed may vary on the personal reaction Richter scale from 'meh' to 'OH. MY. GOD'.
A paternity scandal may not rank all that highly from an outsider's perspective (certainly not one given to watching daytime television soap operas) but there's no denying that the secret at the heart of the Polley family -- earth shattering on one level -- makes for a fascinating tale and a documentary without a hint of soap.
Sarah Polley, a Canadian actress whom you're more likely to recognise by face than by name -- The Sweet Hereafter (1997), Go (1999), Dawn of the Dead (2004) -- has recently turned her attentions behind the camera as a director (2007's Away From Her which earned two Oscar nominations (Best Actress; Adapted Screenplay), and 2012's Take This Waltz), and, on her third outing, seems to have found the perfect subject.
Taking the adage 'write what you know' to heart, Polley has turned her directorial gaze on herself and her family: a seemingly typical middle class Canadian tribe. The mother, Diane, and father, Michael, hailing from a theatrical background and the siblings -- the eldest two from the mother's first marriage, the younger three from her second -- following less artistic pursuits (bar Sarah).
It's during a brief return to the stage in the late 1970s, out of town and away from her husband and then four children, that Diane is believed to not have only had an affair but conceived a child (Sarah). None of this is revealed to the family, including Michael, until later in life, when Diane has died from cancer and Sarah is an adult and working in Hollywood.
Through interviews with Michael, her siblings, and friends of her mother, and an almost seamless blend of recreations and actual home footage, Polley sifts through the haze of memory, real and fictional, to get to some kind of truth. For Stories We Tell is as much about memory and myth-making as it is secrets and lies, and Polley's softly-softly approach is never less than fascinating, always engaging and surprisingly affecting.
And although turning the camera on herself, Stories We Tell is by no means a Sarah Polley vanity piece; it's not about her 'celebrity', it's not even really about her reaction to the discoveries she makes even though that would have been completely understandable. It's about the family, and the Polley family could be anyone's, making Stories We Tell universal but no less intimate.