One of the best films of 2012 was Sarah Polley’s Take This Waltz, starring Michelle Williams. It was a personal story that oozed realism, immediately putting Polley on the “new elite” list of directors for her ability to touch on such raw nerves. Her follow up film is a documentary called Stories We Tell (opening today), and it manages to get even more personal while at the same time examining the very nature of how stories are told, or perhaps more importantly, how truth is received.
Films in the Documentary genre are often criticized as being seen through the acute filter of its creator’s vision, where a limited perspective hinders the ability to hear all sides of a story. Mindful movie-goers, for example, have come to learn that a Michael Moore documentary – or any film of the genre – is not necessarily “the absolute truth” but is rather Michael Moore’s truth as he sees it.
In Stories We Tell, Polley launches a deep investigation into her own origin to discover some truths about her own family and her past. While she is digging back, she manages to create a documentary about stories themselves, shining a light on the fact that these “truths” are only the truth depending on who is telling the story, or who is listening to the story.
For example, if you found out today that your father wasn’t really your father, would he cease to be your father? Would that truth erase your history with the man, the times and memories you’ve shared?
As Polley pulls back the own layers of her family history, it is clear that nothing is clear. Her mother would seem to have the closest perspective to the “truth,” but her mother died long ago. We get the feeling from Polley’s insights that actually, everybody only assumes that her mother could have set the record straight. In fact – or in theory – her mother could probably only add another version of the story.
Purposely, I’ll leave the exact story of Stories We Tell a bit vague here. The compelling nature of the film is based upon the idea that you don’t know exactly where it’s headed, so it’s best to leave it at that.
Adding on to the idea that the story-teller is framing the story as he/she sees fit, Polley brings her film to life with a mixture of real photographs and film with several “home movies” that are not home movies at all, but are actually recreated with actors, painting the picture of what Polley sees of her family in her own mind.
Because the story is so deeply personal, at times Stories We Tell seems a bit self-indulgent. But it is never uninteresting. The different layers of truth and Polley’s incredible ability to simultaneously tell a story and examiner how stories are told, makes Stories We Tell one of the most personal, and most effective, documentary film thus far this year.
Run Time: 1 hour, 48 minutes, Rated PG-13
Featuring: Sarah Polley, Pixie Bigelow, John Buchan, Tom Butler, Geoffrey Bowes
Starring: Andrew Church, Rebecca Jenkins, Peter Evans
Written & Directed by Sarah Polley (Take This Waltz, Away from Her)
Opens locally on Friday, May 31, 2013 (check for show times).
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How to read Tom Santilli’s “Star Ratings:”
- 5 Stars: Exceptional, must-see movie
- 4 Stars: Very good movie, not without flaws
- 3 Stars: The movie was just OK, leaves a lot to be desired
- 2 Stars: Pretty bad, a let-down, disappointing, but with some redeeming qualities
- 1 Star: Awful, sloppy, a total waste of time