Thursday, September 5, 2013

"Stories We Tell" --An Artist's Journey into Her Identity and Her Own Family Secrets

Sometimes documentaries can be every bit as dramatic and exciting as the best fiction films.  Sarah Polley's  "Stories We Tell" is one such film.    The film details the life of a marriage between a rather staid English-born   writer (Mark Polley) and a free-spirited Canadian actress and casting director wife, Diane. The  marriage produced some happiness, but also fissures of adultery and secrets known to some family members (and not to others)  that sent reverberations decades later that reverberated to the lives of the grown children.  Diane Polley (who died of cancer in 1990, when Sarah was just 11) is described by her daughter as having created a sort of tsunami that left the rest of her family in her wake.  But the film creates such an intimate look at the total family ( via interviews and home movies and some recreations of events)  and those friends around them that their lives were more touched than engulfed by the life energy that Diane,  wife/mother/lover/friend/artist, bestowed on those she touched.

It is a film of strong dynamics, bringing together all of Sarah Polley's five siblings (two by her first marriage) into creating (through words and body language)  an absorbing contrast into the various  parallax of  stories and remembrances that provide all families that common back-story that makes a shared fragment or identity with one another possible.  

Ms. Polley is a Canadian film-maker known as a child actress in  Road to Avonlea. At fourteen she left acting, moved out on her own and pursued a career as an activist for Canada's socialist New Democratic Party.   She returned to her artistic career doing some commercial films like the zombie-inspired   Dawn of the DeadSplice, and Mr. Nobody while turning down other parts in major Hollywood films like the Bourne Identity series and others.    She has  stayed a mainly  Canada-based film-maker, achieving feature film work as an actress, director and screenwriter in award-winning films like  Away from Her  .  Her third directorial effort is a documentary "The Stories We Tell". It is a critically well-received work that explores her own family in a quest for the truth about her paternity and the family dynamic that generated her rather unique situation.

 "Her latest film, Stories We Tell, is her first feature length documentary. It had its world premiere at the 2012 Venice Film Festival, and its North American premiere followed at the Toronto International Film Festival.[6] The Toronto Film Critics Association awarded it the $100,000 prize for best Canadian film of the year.[7]"   ----Curzon Films Website 


  1. "an absorbing contrast into the various parallax of stories and remembrances that provide all families that common back-story that makes a shared fragment or identity with one another possible."

    Succinctly but profoundly put Doug. It is an enlightening for me who comes from a family that has a long history (going back at least four generations to my knowledge) of totally ignoring each other almost all of the time.

    Its not that we dislike each other, it is more a univeral indiference which means I sometimes go for years without speaking to any member of my family, nor they to each other. It does tend to give 'news and gossip' an intensity when it breaks out and forces one of us to reluctantly contact another to catch up on what's happened over the past four years or so.

    So yes this film is of interest to me because it seems to refer to a comceptualisation of what a family is and what it should be. The film is an ideological product intended to spark emotional responses which could actually be the definition of all drama I suppose.... and even all literature and the arts too Doug.

    There are plenty of films and plays about families like mine of course, the Henry VI trilogy to name but three, but this film is interesting for its atlanticism and precisely that back-story that precedes the film itself. In other words it is to me an artifact of a much larger picture from which it derives its meanings even before it was made. That is what interested me most about this trailer, the bit I liked least was the soundtrack, but I would watch this film if the opportunity arises Doug thanks for highlighting it and bringing it to my attention with this excellent review!

    1. Thanks for positive input, AA. as always.

      I see we have that in common within our families, AA, at least as long as whole sections not speaking to one another. My parents and I were close, me being pretty much an only child. I had an adult half-brother halfway around the world most of the time---the competition was not fierce for parental attention growing up. Haven't seen the guy in thirty years, and he's not keen on returning my calls although I don't judge him harshly since he was 17 when I was born. I have cousins who wrote me off so long ago I'm no longer sure they would recognize me, nor I them. My closest "family members" of my own age have been and remain the three or four schoolmates I grew up with in San Jose and one fellow I knew in high school in Florida. I have my local contacts but I find that the older one gets the harder it is to make a friendship stick beyond the work place or some other permanent or ad hoc institution. I'm as much to blame there as my fellow contacts.

      The Noakes' and the Sutton's (my maternal folk) are nothing if not remote clans, at least that's my experience. So if you see any blokes or ladies named Noakes or Sutton staggering down the block or laying crumpled up under a bar stool in a pub at "last orders" in a Birmingham pub, please tell him or her that "Doug says hi."

      I knew there was something of Shakespeare in your background, AA. :-) Fellow Brummies and all, there's that gift for words for one thing.

      Families do seem to be the source for many great works of literature. No matter how humble one might think one's family is, you see a film like "The Godfather II" or read a book about The Wars of the Roses or the Churchill or Kennedy Family, one immediately can relate to that dynamic of parents and siblings. It's a great constant in the lives of most of us lucky to be born, no matter if our "pram" was made of gilded steel or wood.

      You're right that the story here does seem to have created itself through the back story, if I catch your meaning. There is that almost Platonic "ideal form" of what a family should be--I suspect even orphans have this ingrained in them by a tidal flow of media cultural messages. Much of the drama of anything from Willy Loman in "Death of a Salesman" to the Corleone mafia family of Long Island, New York, is generated by how far the dynamic falls short of what the general audience THINKS a family should be.
      Once again I think for you got to the heart of this matter, AA. Thanks for your comments.

  2. I remember reading a review about this film a little while ago. I've never seen it but from what I read, here and in the review it seems to explore the whole concept of family. It seems to be saying that 'family' is so much more than biology.
    nice review, if I get the chance, I'll look out for this one. :-)

    1. Thanks for your comments Loretta. I hope you get a chance to see this one.