Stories We Tell (12A)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner28/06/2013

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 108 mins

Impressively directed and intriguingly original, this is an enjoyable, emotionally engaging and thought-provoking documentary that confirms actress-turned-filmmaker Sarah Polley as one of America's most exciting directors.

What's it all about?
Directed by Sarah Polley, Stories We Tell is a personal documentary focusing on the story of her mother, the actress Diane Polley, who died when Sarah was only eleven. Sitting down various members of her family (including father Michael, brothers Mark and John and sisters Susy and Joanna) and friends of her mother, Sarah asks them all to tell her mother's story, in their own words, in recorded one-on-one interviews; at the same time, she asks her father to record himself reading his own memoir about Diane, which forms the film's narrative voiceover.

The various accounts are interspersed with archive material, including a large amount of home movie footage and some reconstructed sequences. However, in assembling her mother's story, Sarah uncovers a family secret that has a significant impact on both the film and her life.

The Good
Polley's approach to the material is hugely engaging and intriguingly original, with some of the more subtle aspects of the film revealed towards the end in a breathtaking flourish. It helps that her family members (many of them actors and writers) are enormously entertaining, often directing comments on the interview process to a behind-the-camera Sarah (some are more comfortable being interviewed than others).

What emerges, first of all, is that truth within a family history is highly subjective and that different people remember things in different ways, even if a generally agreed-upon version of the story has emerged over time. Intriguingly, when it comes to the film's central revelation, there are several half-versions of the story floating about, but the actual truth only emerges when Sarah interviews someone she has previously regarded as a family friend.

The Great
In addition to the emotional impact of the family secret on Sarah herself, the film paints a powerfully moving portrait of the central relationship between her mother and father, heightened by Michael's emotionally engaging and entertainingly delivered memoir (Polley includes several shots of her 'directing' his reading, often interrupting to get him to re-record a line). This is often heartbreaking and raises thought-provoking questions about the truth of relationships, particularly the differences between the public perception and the private reality (it's also fascinating to see how much Diane's friends knew or thought they knew about her life).

Worth seeing?
Brilliantly directed, intriguingly structured and breathtakingly original in its approach, Stories We Tell is an entertaining and ultimately powerfully moving documentary that confirms director Sarah Polley as a major US talent. Highly recommended.

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Stories We Tell (12A)
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Content updated: 26/03/2019 19:04

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