Review: STORIES WE TELL

By Mark Saldana 

Rating: 4 (Out of 4 Stars) 

Most people have entertained the idea that they are not the true biological offspring of their parents, mainly for humor sake. This highly candid documentary by acclaimed actress/filmmaker Sarah Polley (The Sweet Hereafter, Go) uncovers the truth behind Polley’s parentage.  Blending interviews with her family and friends of her deceased mother Diane along with dramatizations of real events shot on Super-8 to mimic home movies, Polley introduces audiences to her family and reveals so much more than she probably originally anticipated.

Sarah’s parents Michael and Diane Polley were professional actors who fell in love after working together on a play. They marry and begin a family. Years pass and the marriage begins to grow somewhat stale. Diane decides to join a play production away from home allowing the couple some separation which actually serves to rekindle the romance. This rekindling results in the birth of Sarah, or at least that’s what Michael believes. In interviewing past associates of her mother, Sarah discovers that she may be the result of an affair Diane may have had during her separation from Michael.

This fascinating and engrossing story not only lays the story of Polley’s family bare and exposed, but it also works as an insightful look at the differences of human perception and recollection.  Everyone interviewed has their own viewpoint, their own memories, and their individual opinions and assessments of the events and people. Not all of the stories match perfectly, nor are they all consistent.  That’s what makes this portrait of the Polley family so captivating,  enlightening, and tremendously poignant.  The truth is always multifaceted, and yet the interpretation and perception of it makes and shapes people into who they are. Life also has a way of throwing people curve balls and this, of course, can have a profound impact as well.

Sarah Polley does an amazing job constructing  this highly personal documentary about her life and family. She also does an almost seamless job of incorporating the Super-8 recreations of key events in her life. At first I thought the footage came from real home movies, and I think some of it does, but most of the scenes were created to give flesh and blood to the narration by Michael Polley as well as the interviews with Michael and Sarah’s brothers and sisters. This documentary truly is a finely crafted masterpiece which should win the hearts of most audience members who have the pleasure of experiencing it.

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