Film: Stories We Tell
Starring: Michael Polley, Rebecca Jenkins
Directed by: Sarah Polley
When I first saw Sarah Polley in Go around the turn of the century, she was maybe 20 years old, and as much as I liked her (and the film), I never would’ve imagined her creating such a heartfelt and intriguing piece of art on her own terms somewhere down the line. But to be fair, I knew nothing of her life, and ofttimes accounts from your own life are the best sources of influence for creative output.
I would imagine that nearly every person in existence has things that take place throughout their lives that they feel is worthy of being told to others. Stories can take many forms and almost every piece of art known to man is based on or inspired by some kind of story — or like in many cases, has its own story as well. It can be interesting, shocking, boring, unbelievable or it can ultimately fall on deaf ears. Regardless of its outcome once being told, the original source (or eyewitnesses) tend to know the story best, but like the “telephone game” or a snowball rolling downhill, stories tend to grow and or get altered along the way. Many people subconsciously add their own twists and hyperbolic exaggerations to liven up a story or they can even change particular details to shed a better light upon themselves. No matter the form in which it originally manifests, stories, like rumors, jokes, and the like can easily fall victim to misconstrued versions and retellings in which the source material becomes something wholly different and possibly misleading or entirely false.
As an examination of not only a tremendous story revolving around situations in Sarah’s own life but also of the human condition and the way stories are told and remembered by various sources and points of view, Stories We Tell is a very creative and original documentary that covers a lot of ground in its 100 minute runtime. It makes you think and it makes you feel something. It makes you consider the possibilities of what you may not know or what you may be taking for granted. It makes you examine yourself and the way you live your own life and treat the ones you love. Stories We Tell can be relatable to any average person that has experiences with family but beyond that it evokes the aforementioned reaction and emotions. By doing this it could easily be deemed a great study and an even greater documentary.
Led by an overlying narrative written by her father, the stories weave amongst themselves in beautiful layers as they’re reminisced upon by each interviewee, comprised of friends and family with insight regarding the covered topics, varying in reliability. Utilizing archival footage of old home videos and newer Super-8 footage/re-creations shot by Sarah to add a visual boost to what is being discussed in the interviews, the real-life (and reenacted) scenes being presented on screen provide a true sense of nostalgia and a familiar warmth that we all feel when popping in our old tapes of family get-togethers and recorded milestones. The way the clips are edited to appropriately match the dialogue works wonders as your heart swells in rhythm with the ups and downs of the family history Sarah reveals through others.
As opposed to many documentaries that come across solely as a film, with no direct relation to their creators, Sarah is very much present in her work as she appears in shots interacting with those she’s working with and vocally interacts both on and off camera as well. I appreciated this as it took away a lot of the coldness that some documentaries have and made it feel more like a project that I was witnessing develop in real time. It added to the kind of “home movie” aesthetic and gave it a sense of “film within a film” which made it feel much more intimate and vulnerable.
Sarah Polley, the woman that once played an optimistic, wheelchair-ridden child after a tragic accident then got chased by zombies in a 2004 horror remake, has become quite the auteur as her directorial résumé grows with the likes of Away From Her, Take This Waltz, and now providing us with one of the year’s best films in this internal view that “excavates layers of myth and memory to find the elusive truth at the core of a family of storytellers.” [spot-on IMDB synopsis]
Even as this may very well be a one-off occurrence, assuming there’s no reason to further elaborate on this particular subject in film, I would be very interested to see Sarah Polley work more in the investigative documentary genre. Regardless of which road she takes, I have always enjoyed her work and will continue to keep my eye out for what she has in store for us next.
Review written by: Brian Lion – Follow him on Twitter