STORIES WE TELL
Polley is both filmmaker and detective as she investigates the secrets kept by a family of storytellers. She playfully interviews and interrogates a cast of characters of varying reliability, eliciting refreshingly candid, yet mostly contradictory, answers to the same questions. As each relates their version of the family mythology, present-day recollections shift into nostalgia-tinged glimpses of their mother, who departed too soon, leaving a trail of unanswered questions. Polley unravels the paradoxes to reveal the essence of family: always complicated, warmly messy and fiercely loving.
Review by Louise Keller:
The facets, the secrets and the different perspectives of love are put under the microscope in this deceptively simple yet devastatingly complex portrayal of a family. The fact that the personal revelations we hear are those of director Sarah Polley's own family and many of the key players play themselves and bare their souls, changes the nature of the work. Most interesting is the way memory, time and perspective puts a different slant on the same events as the complex strands of truth, lies and suppositions are exposed.
When the film begins, we are unsure where the conversations with family members and key players will take us. There is the preliminary banter as nerves, self-consciousness and apprehension of recounting events from a personal point of view is canvassed. Very quickly, we learn the film's focus and star is the only cast member who is absent and appears through archive footage. Especially memorable is her rendition of the song Ain't Misbehavin'. Diane Polley (enigmatically played by Rebecca Jenkins), the warm, vibrant, always laughing, dancing mother who died of cancer when Sarah Polley was 11 years old, is the pivot around which all the events swirl. She was "a woman of secrets, artfully hidden" and it those secrets that are revealed together with the resulting impact. The beguiling scenes in flashback, when Diane sings
Shot on Super 8, Polley has structured her film in a haphazard, non-linear way which allows it the kind of freedom to soar like a kite, choosing which puff of wind on which it wants to rely. Technically, the sleight of hand and seamless integration of the present and the past, is brilliant. Diane's husband Michael Polley, former actor and writer is foremost centre stage, whose version of events may sound rather formal, as he reads what he has written from a sheaf of pages, but they are totally candid. He openly states his inability to counter Diane's disappointment of him - his inability to love her (physically and otherwise) in the way that she needed. One person always loves more, they say. Then there are the 'artfully hidden' secrets and a secret lover affair, based on longing which becomes long lasting and meaningful. As we hear, even a secret love affair needs witnesses to reaffirm it. Also crucial to the drama are other players, including members of the extended family, colleagues and former communist film producer, Harry Gulkin.
There are many moments when I was moved to tears - when raw truths involving emotions, are delivered by family members in spontaneous, unrehearsed fashion. Polley has crafted a rare jewel of a film that reveals much about her own family, and offers something special for others too, creating a shaft of light illuminated by honesty and disclosure, as the smoke and mirrors of previously unspoken memories are erased. While we may all be the central character in our own story, the big picture mosaic offers a somewhat different perspective.
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STORIES WE TELL (M)
CAST: Documentary featuring Pixie Bigelow, Dedre Bowen, Geoffrey Bowes, John Buchan, Susy Buchan, Tom Butler and others
NARRATION: Michael Polley
PRODUCER: Anita Lee
DIRECTOR: Sarah Polley
SCRIPT: Sarah Polley
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Iris Ng
EDITOR: Mike Munn
MUSIC: Jonathan Goldsmith
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Lea Carlson
RUNNING TIME: 108 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Palace
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: September 26, 2013