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Stories We Tell - Film Review

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by Richard Leathem (subscribe)
Freelance writer. Melbourne based cinephile. Fond of food.
Published August 9th 2013
Sarah Polley's unique family portrait
Director: Sarah Polley (Away From Her, Take This Waltz)
Cast: Sarah Polley and her family

Sarah Polley continues her exploration of family and relationship responsibilities in her first documentary, Stories We Tell, a natural companion piece to her excellent fiction features, Away From Her and Take This Waltz. Like those films, it's tinged with sadness and moments of intense emotional power.

Sarah Polley Stories We Tell
Sarah Polley: writer, director and interviewer

At film's start we see Polley setting up her subjects for interview, an attractive and affable bunch. We soon learn that they are members of her immediate family - 2 brothers, 2 sisters and her father. Her father also takes on the role of storyteller. Stood in front of a microphone with a self-written manuscript in hand, he is there to tell us, from the beginning, about a particular incident in the Polley family. His, of course, is just one perspective of the story. Sarah Polley's M.O. is clear, she wants to show the many different versions of the same events - about the ambiguity of truth, the selectiveness of memory, and how no one person's view is the complete picture.

Stories We Tell Michael Polley
Sarah's father Michael Polley tells his version of events.

In this story, the main character is no longer with us. Sarah's mother, by all accounts a force of nature, died of cancer when Sarah was a child. Sarah questions her father and siblings - all older than her - to find out more about her mother.
From these simple beginnings comes a twisty tale of intrigue that any screenwriter would be proud of, full of love, loss, secrets, betrayal and regret.

This meaty tale of true events is all the more entertaining because Sarah Polley has a trick or two up her sleeve in the way she tells it, carefully structuring her reveals.

Stories We Tell Diane Polley
Sarah Polley as a toddler with her mother. Or is it?

All her subjects give off a natural wit and charm and Polley the interviewer coaxes genuine tears from most of them at some point. It's a rich mixture of humour and drama.

In the end, what we are presented with is an intelligent piece of storytelling which also delivers a dramatic punch. Polley succeeds in showing us the fragmentation of truth and in the process gives us a uniquely moving and revealing family portrait.

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Why? An intelligent, well crafted family portrait
Where: At selected cinemas
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