From Canadian actor and director Sarah Polley (TAKE THIS WALTZ), STORIES WE TELL is a lovingly crafted documentary that explores memories, subjective and objective truths, and the constructed narratives that can bind or divide a family.
Putting her own family under the glare of the camera, Polley uses talking-head interviews, narration, Super 8 footage and reconstructions to tell a multifaceted, unreliable story about her mother, Diane.
Diane’s husband, children and friends remember her fondly, telling stories that they feel are representative of the woman they remember. Polley uses home videos, real and constructed, to illustrate the anecdotes, and these give an intimate look into the family’s lives.
Over time, discrepancies begin to appear in the story. Major and minor details morph and change, and the audience is never quite sure what’s true and what isn’t. What did Diane do, what did she say? Does it matter? Why, or why not? When Sarah’s paternity is called into question, everything does seem to matter that bit more.
STORIES WE TELL circles around facts and fictions, combining the two to show how they interact and can never really be separated. It lifts veils and draws back curtains, showing us the family in fragments so that we have time to process and reassess our reactions. But it does so with a huge amount of affection for its subjects, and with no trace of bitterness. Polley is tactful and respectful during some difficult moments, and it’s the overwhelming love that the Polleys have for their mother and each other that makes the film so enjoyable to watch.
This is an incredibly well-constructed documentary, making an intensely personal story accessible and riveting. Polley pays cinematic tribute to her mother and her secrets, her innate unknowability. In doing so she also celebrates the unreliability of memory and the subjectivity of truth: the secrets we keep, and the stories we tell.