Stories We Tell

Stories We Tell

2012, PG-13, 108 min. Directed by Sarah Polley. Starring Rebecca Jenkins, Peter Evans, Alex Hatz.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., June 7, 2013

The further into the past things recede, the knottier their truth becomes. Time passes and the matters in question solidify into stories repeated to others, the truth further refracted by the varied perceptions of both the witnesses and the hearers of the tales. And, too, there exists some distance between the truth of an event and the individual experience of that event. Truth is slippery and multifaceted – and a devil of a thing to pin down in a documentary.

Acknowledging all this, Sarah Polley plunges ahead with Stories We Tell – a very personal yet inventive inquiry into the true identity of her biological father, as well as the many aspects of truth. Using interviews (or interrogations, as some subjects call them), old home movies, newly shot footage made to look like scratchy, old Super-8 film, and material that records her father reading from a memoir he wrote, Polley constructs one of the most lyrical documentaries to come along in a while. The story she tells is ultimately her assemblage of the truth, but one that looks beyond herself to understand the multiplicity of perceptions that shape her understanding.

A renowned Canadian actress on television and film, Polley has also distinguished herself in recent years as the writer and director of the finely wrought fiction films, Away From Her and Take This Waltz, that revealed a wisdom that seemed beyond her young years. Expect no less from her documentary debut. Polley is the daughter of two actors, Michael and Diane Polley, who met in the theatre. Different in disposition (Michael suspects Diane fell in love with the character he was playing at the time they met instead of the actual person he was), theirs was a loving but unbalanced marriage. Diane died of cancer when her youngest child, Sarah, was 11 years old. Aside from the trauma of losing one’s mother at such a young age, Sarah grew up perplexed but largely unconcerned about the ribbing she received from her siblings, who teased that she was not Michael’s biological daughter. Lots of circumstantial evidence points in that direction, and Sarah ultimately embarks on a journey to discover the truth, while recording it on film. Needless to say, the experience takes her in unexpected directions. The film also becomes a lovely portrait of Diane, a woman who left mysteries in her wake.

As lovely as this film is, Stories We Tell loses its footing a little bit in its last third once the central mystery is solved and the focus turns too centrally toward the filmmaker and the choices she must make about revealing the truth and shaping it into a film. Yet the film never grows self-indulgent. As with her other films, when Sarah Polley takes it upon herself to tell us a story, you can bet it’s a tale well-told and one that you’ll want to hear.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Sarah Polley
From the Vaults: Good Golly, Sarah Polley
From the Vaults: Good Golly, Sarah Polley
Sarah Polley writes and directs her second film, 'Take This Waltz'

Aug. 17, 2012

More Sarah Polley Films
Women Talking
Sarah Polley finds stunning drama in one simple night of conversations in a barn

Steve Davis, Dec. 23, 2022

Take This Waltz
Sarah Polley's sophomore film, starring Michelle Williams and Seth Rogen, is an inquiry into commitment and carnal desire, and the hard choices we make when the two don’t align.

Kimberley Jones, Aug. 17, 2012

More by Marjorie Baumgarten
SXSW Film Review: The Greatest Hits
SXSW Film Review: The Greatest Hits
Love means never having to flip to the B side

March 16, 2024

SXSW Film Review: The Uninvited
SXSW Film Review: The Uninvited
A Hollywood garden party unearths certain truths

March 12, 2024

KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

Stories We Tell, Sarah Polley, Rebecca Jenkins, Peter Evans, Alex Hatz

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle