Director Sarah Polley describes her new film, “Stories We Tell,” as “an interrogation process” rather than a documentary. But, moreover, it’s about a mystery, which has shrouded her very existence, and the steadfast search for the truth.
When Polley was 13, her sister drops a bombshell: “Your dad’s not your real dad.” And, for years after her mother’s death (Polley was 11 at the time), there were constant references by her four older siblings to that “fact.” Polley decides to set the record straight by having family members and friends tell their own stories in their own words.
Her “father,” Michael, who has written a memoir about his beloved wife, Diane, narrates the film. In the ’60s, Michael was acting in a play and the guileless Diane fell head-over-heels for him. In a candid observation, Michael states he’s fairly certain she fell in love with the character he was portraying. After years of marriage and his inability to be that character, Diane had an affair.
The versions of each interviewee are quite varied. Polley is left with nagging uncertainties, until she inadvertently meets a man who claims to be her biological father. A DNA test confirms it, but is is far from the end of her fascinating story.
Polley has established herself as a distinguished actor (“The Sweet Hereafter”), director (“Away From Her”), writer (“Take This Waltz”) and producer. But she creates a whole new genre of filmmaking in “Stories We Tell.” She shoots scenes in Super 8, which gives the film a home-movie feel and look. She also casts actors to portray her parents when they were young. All the while, she is interacting and filming with Michael as he narrates. It’s beyond unique.
What might have been a movie about sad reminiscing, “Stories We Tell,” is, at times, hilarious, always insightful and so riveting that it borders on being a thriller. Most of all, it’s amazing to watch Polley direct as she peels back the layers of her life. It must have been unimaginable to take this journey and stand back at the same time while documenting it.
Polley comments, “ ... the truth about the past is often ephemeral and difficult to pin down.”
Just as we think her story has come to an end, a mind-blowing revelation takes place as the credits begin rolling. It’s a stroke of genius.
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