It’s time to sing the praises of Sarah Polley once again, and I imagine that this is going to become a continuing theme. After years of admiring Ms. Polley as an actress(“The Sweet Hereafter”, “Go”, “eXistenZ”, Zack Snyder’s “Dawn of the Dead”, “Splice”), her third feature has officially cemented her as a director of deep gifts. I’ve already written extensively about her first two films behind the camera in my “Take This Waltz” review from November of last year, so I won’t recap here. But dare I say that “Stories We Tell” is her finest work yet? 2007’s “Away from Her” was quite wonderful and an astonishing debut. But with her latest, a documentary of all things, Sarah shows remarkably sure footing. “Stories We Tell” is likely to grace my Top Ten films of 2013 list a few months down the line.
What a crime it would be to give too much away here. Even the above trailer goes too far. It can safely be said that “Stories We Tell” is about the life of Sarah Polley. There is also a sizable amount of focus on her immediate relatives and many siblings. But I don’t think that anyone would argue that the real “star” of the film is Sarah’s vivacious late mother, Diane. And Ms. Polley(also the film’s screenwriter)weaves her tale with a mixture of mirth, mystery and melancholy. And she does so not only with some startlingly candid interviews, but by mixing actual home movie footage with flawlessly manufactured Super-8 recreations, gussied up to appear like the real thing. It had me fooled perpetually—I’m pretty certain you will be too. This is a loving memoir and an almost demented exhibition, and Ms. Polley is called to task on more than one occasion as to why she’s going about it the way that she is. It may indeed defy conventional wisdom, but methinks Sarah will most definitely have the last laugh. Expect “Stories We Tell” to be mentioned endlessly, come year-end critics’ lists and awards rosters.
At one point early on in the film, Sarah’s sister Joanna queries “who cares about our fucking family?”, and it would hardly be surprising if a certain percentage of the audience reacts in that fashion. But I would accuse them of being disingenuous. Don’t all of us believe we have a story we want to tell? Isn’t it a pretty open secret that most human beings think their lives worthy of a documentation such as this? Do we fault Ms. Polley for having the talent, the ambition, the connections and the background to actually get something as remarkable as this motion picture produced? Or do we applaud her for the outstanding accomplishment of presenting a final product as compelling as this? Akira Kurosawa’s “Rashomon” brilliantly demonstrated for us, over three score years ago, how the stories we tell are ultimately determined by the teller. I am quite sure that any one of the many family members of Sarah Polley given screen time in “Stories We Tell” would’ve chosen a different path. But this is a raw, invasive expose as seen through Ms. Polley’s eyes. She’s created something absolutely extraordinary. And it would be a crying shame for film lovers to miss it. Grade: A