Sunday, May 19, 2013

Stories We Tell

Sarah Polley started young.  First as a budding actress on Canadian television shows before taking a giant leap into the independent film subconscious in 1997's terrific The Sweet Hereafter and becoming one a bonafide indie queen in films like Go and Guinevere in the late 1990s.  Since then she has straddled a strong acting presence while becoming a first rate filmmaker in her own right (her directorial debut, Away From Her earned lots of praise, including a writing Oscar nomination for herself.)  Now she's turned the camera on herself as well as her family in the lovely and delicate new documentary Stories We Tell.  A collection of memories from herself and her family.  It's a startlingly sneaky and inventive film which, on the outset would appear like a frilly showcase or a collection of home movies that wouldn't seem like they would have much interest outside the Polley family.  But the film has the tug and power of a great drama, a mystery of the heart and the past which quietly unravels as altogether something grander, slightly bold and immeasurably special.

The funny thing is that it all seemingly started out as a joke.  As a kid, Polley was teased by her siblings on the fact that she doesn't really look like her father.  A running gag, one even spurred on her father himself, of the blonde haired youngest child of stage actors Diane and Michael Polley.  Her mother passed away when Sarah was just eleven years old, but was by all accounts a vibrant and exuberantly over-the-top presence, and in many ways Stories We Tell is beautifully conceived homage to her as well a hopeful sense of connectivity from her filmmaking daughter to the mother that was taken away from her at such a young age.  The mystery concerns the events of how Sarah Polley came to be.  Diane was working on a play in Montreal during her conception, and suddenly that joke, that running gag, seemed to coalesce to something that may actually be true.  Could her biological father be someone other than the man who had raised her?

Stories We Tell is far from a sensationalized bit of soap opera-ized gossip about affairs or familial conflict, instead it's Polley's way of owning her story as well as abiding equal time to all its players.  Of which include her four older siblings, her father (who provides a droll narration of the events), and close family friends who all share their versions of the truth in their own words.  What it all builds to is an effecting and moving rumination and collection of memories-- some of which are contradictory, some are not-- that reflect a communal experience of life and love and happiness and anguish.  In other words, this isn't your family history, but it also is.  The refrain of Stories We Tell is inexplicably that the most important story can never be told, that from her mother.

Polley, who has always captured a rare and defined sensitivity as both an actress and as a filmmaker. She posits her Stories with an expert precision as she blends her familial talking heads seamlessly with home movie footage and reenactments.  There's a quiet grace and expressive subtly to the way she weaves her own history that at first it may be easy to overlook how witty and precisely delicate Stories We Tell actually is.  Most lovingly, in spite of what occurs, is the very central and earthbound rapport between the filmmaker and her father (biological or not.)  With this up close and personal film, it demonstrates more than ever the bristling humanity of Polley's work and even powerfully shifts her past work-- for instance the father-daughter dynamic so masterfully and creepily displayed in The Sweet Hereafter (filmed many years before she knew of her own family secrets) takes on added layers of difficulty and nuance.  A-  

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...