Sarah Polley’s amazingly personal and intimate examination of memory, history and identity. Only in a show biz family would one find so much archival footage; astonishing how much film they have of a woman who died in the 70′s. Polley however, and this was something that was not apparent until toward the end of the film, has done a lot of very careful, excellently cast and art-directed reenactments. They are all shot in 8mm, as the actual archival footage was, and seem to be shot in some of the actual locations where the actual event occurred. There is a bit of uneasiness here, as there was in Gatekeepers, that fiction was being presented without citation, and that the line between real and imaginary was blurred.
Though delightfully, in this case, this blurring actually enhances the telling, in that this is really the theme of the film. That memory is personal and tainted, that the past inevitably becomes illusion and can only be discovered as shadows, projected onto the personalities that recall it. She approaches this with a powerful mystery from her own life, the true identity of her father, and then reflects as much on her search as the solution. She gathers all of the witnesses, mostly members of her family, and documents their tellings, intentionally cutting contradictory clips adjacent to one another, and often cutting shots of herself taken during the sessions into the narrative.
Her father is shown doing a reading, in a recording studio, of the memoir he has written about the events. She intercuts footage of herself, directing the session, often with an intense nervous tremor, that is agonizing but touching. One could see how naked she felt, and how deeply involved she was with the material. In fact I doubt anyone could make another film that was any more personal. She is at once the central topic of the film, as well as its creator, and the tension within her, to simultaneously be object and subject, was so clearly displayed in that tiny, almost imperceptible tremor.
On another occasion, at one critical moment when each of the characters is reflecting on their feelings about the death of Sarah’s mother, Diane, she cuts from one to the other, all from moments in takes without dialogue or comment, only the silent physical anguish of people remembering the loss of someone they loved. And most wonderfully, probably each and every one of the people in the world, save Sarah herself in that one montage, who loved Diane the most. It is one of those moments in film that can say so much more than could possibly be said in any other way or medium, and it will stay with me for a very long time. One of the best documentaries ever.