Derek Winnert

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This article was written on 03 Jul 2013, and is filled under Reviews.

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Stories We Tell – Film Review

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Actress and film-maker Sarah Polley (Away from Her, Take This Waltz) turns her cameras with a blinding light on her own family as she probes what really happened with them back in the 1970s, interviewing her actor father and siblings about her late actress mother Diane, a wonderfully vivacious personality and dangerously free spirit, reflecting the excesses of the era. Still very much alive and kicking, her dear old dad, quite a different personality, a basic loner, tolerant and forgiving and quietly loving to a fault, knows the truth but is reluctant to reveal it. It’s been buried so deep.

Poignant home video footage, old photos, often none-too-gentle probing new interviews, a studio sound recording of her dad’s memoirs, re-creations by actors are mixed and matched to great effect as Polley does a Sherlock job on her mother, father and therefore herself. It’s clearly a form of therapy for her, expiating old guilts and fears, getting rid of old angers and frustrations and hurts. In doing so, she seems to hurt those around her who love her and are essentially loveable.

This is a fascinating, riveting, sometimes heartbreaking documentary. As she doggedly questions and probes, Polley’s desperate need to reveal the truth results unconsciously and unintentionally in what seem almost to amount to emotional acts of near-sadism to her family, all in the cause of truth and her own healing. She clearly doesn’t want to hurt them but I think she quite clearly does. She makes her reigned-in, always acting father cry for real as she asks him how he felt on the day her mother died. It hurts desperately, but then the truth often hurts, and that’s why most people prefer the polite little white lies.

I admired the film greatly, was hugely involved and stirred as it exerted an increasingly vice-like grip, but I was greatly disturbed, puzzled and worried by it. It’s not really a nice story, or a nice film. But it is gruellingly honest, true and painful. And in many ways it is a marvellous film and an extraordinary experience to sit through. Yet, frankly, this isn’t a story I’d want to tell about my family if I were a film-maker. Nevertheless, I salute Polley’s great courage, strength and achievement, and her part in her family’s healing.

(C) Derek Winnert 2013

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