s t o r i e s w e t e l l
28th June 2013
Lots of Polleys
18th June 2013
I am a huge fan of the lovely Sarah Polley. I liked her as an actress but I love her as a director. Take This Waltz was one of my favourite films, a beautifully handled look at a relationship breaking down. In Stories We Tell Polley turns the camera on herself and her family in a brutally honest and revealing documentary about a family secret and how the changing nature of stories.
Ever since Sarah Polley was a little girl there was a family joke about how she didn't look like he father. Born later in her mother, Diane's life, a surprise birth, Sarah's siblings were much older than her and there was much merriment at birthdays and Christmases were around the fact that, with her bright red hair, Sarah was the odd one out. How they laughed. As Sarah got older and grew more inquisitive she started to discover things and one family skeleton in particular came tumbling out the closet. Stories We Tell is Polley's attempt to make sense of it all in an arena where the truth is often, unintentionally, transformed into what the teller wants it to be.
Narrated by Polley's father, Michael, Stories We Tell is an utterly fascinating, funny, sad, sweet honest. My family is full of secrets and lies – whose isn't? So it is easy to feel at home with the content quickly and feel comfortable watching the differing accounts of aunts to uncles to brothers, sisters, fathers and lovers. Polley's family is extremely engaging and attractive and obviously their love for her comes through strongly and makes them receptive and honest in their reaction to her. Her choice of using her father as the narrator of the story, reading the letter he wrote to Sarah when everything unfurled, is an inspired one. Michael is such an honest, engaging and heartbreaking person that we see everything, he is naked. We also see a fair bit of Polley as real life scenes are recreated and we hear her voice constantly pushing and probing her subjects. 'You really got me' Michael says to her whilst wiping tears away after talking about Diane's death, to which Polley replies 'you told me to break you down!' she says 'You did', he smiles through the tears. 'you did'.
At the centre of this great secret of the Polley family is Diane, Sarah Polley's effervescent, youthful and magnetic mother who died young from cancer. Using home video, pictures and letters Polley recreates this bright light Diane who was struggling to shine in her marriage to Michael, a much more reserved man who did not show his affection nearly as much as Diane needed. Both parents were thespians, although Michael apparently having more natural talent in his 'little finger' than Diane managed to pull a career out of. Michael retired from acting to go into insurance once their children started arriving and here's where the relationship began to flounder. It is heartbreaking watching and hearing about the breakdown of their love and Diane's hope of getting what she so desired from Michael dwindles over the years. The methods Polley uses to represent her mother are varied and clever and including one wicked trick that I won't give away, suffice to say I fell for it. The death of Polley's mother and the age of the other children meant that Polley and her father formed an extremely strong and close relationship and it is clear from the film that this period of Michael's life will forever be the most he has ever felt most at home with love and being loved. Polley's love for her father is strong and as another man, an exciting charismatic film producer, Harry Gulkin starts coming to the forefront it is both exciting and disarming for her. This relationship with Harry however becomes challenging in Polley's dislike of the desire of Harry's to put his story down into print for people to see. Polley finds this wrong – why should people only read his story? Hence the idea for the documentary which Harry sees as wrong as unfair. To Harry the story belongs to him and Diane alone. To Polley the story belongs to Harry, her and her entire family, to anyone who was a part of it. Of course it is Sarah Polley's story that we are watching here even though she states she is presenting the views of all those involved, ultimately she is the final editor and therefore it is her story. At the beginning of the documentary Sarah says to each of her interviewees in turn 'can you tell me the story, in your words, from the very beginning to now'. The reactions say it all, heads shake, eyes roll, tongues are lost. An impossible, difficult story to tell.
Stories We Tell is a great achievement and a fascinating comment on the cyclical notion of family secrets and stories. Handled with sensitivity, love and humour, Polley's directing prowess further increases. It's a wonderful story, whomever it belongs to.
Check out the trailer here