Sundance Review “Stories We Tell”

Stories We Tell (Sarah Polley | Canada | 108 min)

Director Sarah Polley (Away From Her, Take This Waltz) tackles the world of documentary with Stories We Tell, a poignant and moving portrait of family, love, secrets and discovery. We follow her as an investigator of sorts; decoding and deciphering clues as to who her mother was and a long kept secret that would forever change her life.

Diane, Polley’s mother (who passed away when Polley was 11) was beautiful, loving, funny and full of life; but we also see that beneath the surface she was struggling. The film touchingly paints a portrait of a woman looking to love and be loved in a meaningful way; a woman trying to find fulfillment in her life. We see how this leads to the decisions she made; decisions that had a profound impact on the lives of those closest to her, particularly her children.

Stories We Tell unfolds through candid, honest, heartbreaking and at times funny interviews with family and friends. Layer after layer of the story is peeled away through recollections; yet each person, with their own viewpoint, often contradicts the other. What is wonderful about the film is that it is not only about this “secret” but that it explores the nature of memory, history, and how we tell the stories of our lives. How do we recollect? Do we remember the “truth” or do we put our own hopes and fears into that “truth?” What does it mean when the key player of the story is no longer here to tell her side? How are we transformed when revelations are made and secrets revealed? Does it charge who we are, our path, our relationship to each other?

Through these interviews, behind the scenes shots, and glimpses of Polley herself as subject; the film criss-crosses genres and styles with a result that feels deeply personal and satisfying. We become part of the discovery process. It challenges us to not be passive viewers but to question and put the pieces together ourselves.

Stories We Tell is about our shared history, the stories that shape us, but ultimately is a loving and beautiful portrait of a woman, wife, mother and friend.