wed 07/06/2023

DVD: Stories We Tell | reviews, news & interviews

DVD: Stories We Tell

DVD: Stories We Tell

Sarah Polley's intimate family doc trades in unreliable memories and elusive truths

Shooting for the truth: Sarah Polley and the film producer Harry Gulkin in 'Stories We Tell'Artificial Eye

The reason to obtain a DVD or Blu-ray disc of Sarah Polley's unforgettable documentary is because making sense of it requires several viewings. What starts out as a straightforward memoir centred on the presence of an absence – her mother Diane, lost to cancer at 54 in 1990, when Sarah was 11 – turns into a kaleidoscopic meta-narrative that makes the Canadian actor-director ponder her motives.

The impassive on-screen observer of the perplexing oral history of her engendering, Polley seemingly works from a position of clarity toward the realisation that families are conundrums, for everyone. Away From Her (2006) and Take This Waltz (2011), the fiction films about doomed marriages Polley wrote and directed, arrived at similarly persuasive conclusions. 

As home movie (and other) footage reveals, actress Diane was a radiant, magnetic woman, blessed with an abnormal share of joie de vivre, whom survivors (including Sarah's four siblings) describe glowingly. Gradually, though, it emerges that Diane wasn't fulfilled by her marriage to Ilford-born Michael Polley, an unsociable actor who often neglected her sexually, as he neglected his writing talent. She also felt stifled living in Toronto, hankering for Montreal's convivial bohemianism. She and Michael stayed together, but she died with secrets.

By the time it's mooted by a relative that Polley has embarked on a psychological quest to deal with her loss and the impact her findings are having on her sense of identity, she is threatened with losing her storyteller's prerogative to Michael and another witness.

The two men each decide to give their own accounts of the past, one of them arguing that the story is his alone to tell. In editing the film, Polley maintained control by such means as choosing Michael as the narrator and meticulously directing, on camera, his line-readings from the text he had written. 
She dissuaded the other would-be storyteller from going public with his version of events.

The revelations keep coming, right up to the last moment. They aren't confined to the family's history, but extend to the nature of authorship (especially women's), and what the movie says about the unreliability of memories, even of concrete images. Viewers who accept what they see at face value may find themselves shocked by the cast list.

The revelations keep coming, right up to the last moment


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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