Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Mini Review: Stories We Tell (Sarah Polley, 2013)

I had heard a lot of positive reports about Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell following screenings at the Toronto International Film Festival last year. I haven’t seen the Oscar-nominated Away From Her (2006) but as an admirer of her more polarizing follow-up, Take This Waltz (2011), I was happy to hear that the impressive young filmmaker had turned out another winner.

I watched this at the Sydney Film Festival and I’d really like to watch it again in cinemas. My scattered memories aren’t sitting too well, and though I am certainly fond of the film I wasn’t thinking much about it the next day. I can’t help but think that I missed out on an experience shared by many others. 

Stories We Tell is an extraordinarily complex reflection on origin, heritage and family secrets, with Polley taking special interest in holistic collaboration. She asks her family (her father, siblings) and former acquaintances of her late mother to be the subject of an interrogation. She fires off questions about her mother, to begin with, and this would have been a fascinating documentary if it were entirely about her. But, from behind the camera, Polley is in search of something else, and truly understanding her mother is the first step in the process of understanding where she came from and the factors that have built her identity.

These candid interviews are interesting to watch because there is a personal connection already at play; the informality of them makes them pleasurable to watch as well as revelatory. But these accounts are just a fragment of the footage inventively collaborated to paint this portrait. I won’t delve into the other means, because I think the less you know about some things in this film, the better. She probes into the web of intrigue left behind by her mother, and discovers that the path to excavating the truth is not an easy one - along the way it has been layered with myth and her perseverance unlocks some quite shocking secrets.

This is a very personal project, and while I wasn’t hit hard by the film emotionally, its brilliant construction cannot be denied. It is transcendent, poignant, moving and funny. It balances a filmmaker’s personal agenda with a comment on narrative - how the story of our lives can differ depending on the individual recounting, and how this ultimately influences how we live. 

My Rating:


  1. Really enjoyed this film and I love this review. We're in complete agreement here: a personal film, but one that didn't necessarily hit me emotionally. But still, Polley proves yet again that she can form a very compelling film.

    1. Thanks for reading man. I am glad we agree. I feel like I fall a little short of the consensus, but I still appreciate the film a lot. Hearing some of the reactions post-view in the cinema where I work, a lot of people are really digging it and have a lot of questions about it. I think WOM is going to make it a hit. Well, I hope so.