By Daniel PrattCanadian director Sarah Polley is known for tackling themes that inspire introspection, whether in Away From Her, where she dealt with the effects of Alzheimer's on a marriage, or Take This Waltz, where she tackled the nature of passion versus love.
They are uncomfortable themes that are experienced the world over, yet are rarely displayed on screen with such acuity. Polley's latest film, Stories We Tell, comes in documentary form, delving into familial memory comparison, detailing how each person recalls a story and how their individual truths can differ, which can ultimately lead to similarities and occasional contradictions over the years.
The subject of the documentary is Polley's family, centering upon her mother, Diane, who lived a colourful life until her death in 1990. Her late mother's infidelities eventually surface, bringing into question the identity of her biological father.
Driven by firsthand accounts of the past by family members and loved ones, the most powerful story comes from her father, Michael Polley, as he reads his memoir in a recording studio under the direction of his daughter. This narration subsequently acts as the framing device for the film.
Polley frequently juxtaposes specific accounts of the past with her subjects to further the notion that memory is specific to the individual and that people rarely remember something in the same manner.
Original home movies of her family are showcased, blended with re-enactments of remembrances on a grainy Super-8 camera to give the illusion of films from days gone by. Polley paints a portrait of a marriage and family that have their ups and downs, but hones in on the fact that there were secrets the core. Once her biological father is established and brought into the fold, the examination of memory compounds and it is here that a true recollection of Polley's mother is established.
The documentary's trajectory is sound, as Polley has created a cohesive narrative of a family that peels back their roots for the world to witness. It is a true examination into the many versions of a story, how people retain their memories and stories, and how important it is for people to create a narrative in their mind in order to make sense of it all. (Mongrel Media)