Stories We Tell - Blu-ray Review

'Polley knows that she is part of the story and her feelings filter through gradually and with class. There isn't a hint of 'woe is me' about this, hardly a touch of indulgence, let alone over-indulgence.'

Sarah Polley's terrific Stories We Tell is a Documentary as much about documenting as it is about family, adultery and the life of the Polley family. At the beginning of the film, I wrote a note: 'home movie: how much do we really care about these people?' By the end it is clear that it doesn't really matter.

That said, we do care come the end, particularly about Sarah Polley herself, who sets out to document the secret behind her conception and her family's reaction to its reveal. Polley's approach is clinical, cold even, and during the first third it could perhaps seem as though she is deliberately trying to stay absent from a narrative that inherently concerns her. By the end there is no illusion: Polley knows that she is part of the story and her feelings filter through gradually and with class. There isn't a hint of 'woe is me' about this, hardly a touch of indulgence, let alone over-indulgence.

The fact that Polley does allow her feelings to show eventually is part of the cathartic wider concern of the film. Whilst Stories We Tell is here to tell us about the Polley family, it is also here to conceptualise and theorise the way different people see and treat the things that happen in their lives: their stories. Where a story might concern one person overtly, another may simultaneously react to it far differently. It is shown in the film most obviously by Harry Gulkin, who wants an element of the story told very much on his terms. Recognising that she has much right to dictate this as he does, Polley eventually overrules him.

Self-effacement and self-assessment are difficult things for many people, but certainly they are also things Polley wants to examine, and a big reason why she herself comes through so successfully in the final third. Adultery, as a filmic concept, is often shown as a large and over-bearing event, an action that affects a relationship in cataclysmic ways, often only causing over-wrought histrionics. There's none of that here. This is a willing and necessary contemplation of adultery, of the outcomes and of what happens next. The event to Polley is only a flash in the pan (shown by this film's version of a post credit sting), the aftermath is where mice and men are judged by their actions. It's refreshing, honest and very new when placed alongside other attempts to understand adultery on screen.

If there's any failing in Polley's narrative at all, it may be in the fact that there is no alternative available to her but to tell her story in a heavily edited and semi-fictionalised medium. Or maybe that in itself is perfect. Polley knows of this tension and, to her credit, draws attention to it, through how she depicts events in her narrative and her inclusion of discussions about how this film will look come its final version. It's a concept that will excite fans of everything meta and leave everyone else scratching their head. You get the idea that Polley would be absolutely fine with this. A remarkable and satisfying project, turned into a film of the very same.





By Sam Turner. Sam is editor of Film Intel, and can usually be found behind a keyboard with a cup of tea. He likes entertaining films and dislikes the other kind. He's on , Twitter and several places even he doesn't yet know about.

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