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Flicks - Stories We Tell
Stories We Tell 13/07/25 2:30
Flicks - Stories We Tell
Sarah Polley's exploration of her late mother's secrets also has the wider theme of how we frame our family histories through storytelling. Canadian actress and director Sarah Polley has found a fascinating subject for her first non-fiction film: her own family. Stories We Tell examines a mystery surrounding her mother, Diane Polley, herself a minor actress on stage and TV, who died of cancer in 1990. She was an unforgettable character, an exuberant extrovert who always seemed to be doing a million things at once, beautiful, funny, devoted to her family. Michael Polley was her second husband, also an actor, but in contrast to his wife, an introverted and somewhat emotionally distant man. Their kids had a strong sense that marriage to Michael did not fulfill Diane, but there was a secret that she never revealed, and when Sarah discovered the truth, she was inspired to make this film.
Obviously this is the kind of movie that I can't tell you too much about without spoiling it for you. But luckily the theme of the film is bigger than that. As one of Sarah's sisters says, "Why should anyone care about our family? Everybody has issues." But what Polley has done here, as indicated by the title, is examine how we experience our families within the confines of stories that we tell ourselves, and how these stories differ from one another, and from reality.
Interviews with the director's four siblings, her father, and others, are interspersed with remarkable home movie footage to create an uncanny feeling of fragmentation of memory. If you grew up in a family that documented its special occasions on 16-millimeter color film, you'll remember how that silent evidence of the past can bring both joy and a sense of loss as we view it later. Here the aesthetic of the home movie, in its repetitive and hypnotic nature, becomes a symbol of experience forever lost and distorted. In fact, Polley reveals another secret, different from the personal one about her mother, late in the film, and it has to do with the methods she used to make the film we're watching. Just as we invest a great deal of imagination in crafting our personal stories, so the director has performed a marvelous feat that is also a kind of sleight-of-hand, in order to give family memory its ghostly manifestation on screen.
The most interesting character in Stories We Tell turns out to be Michael Polley, the father. A long piece that he wrote in response to the family revelation becomes the framing device for the film, and gradually we get to know a man who proves to have more depth of character than anyone had supposed. Once more, Sarah Polley's film allows us to glimpse the greater truth behind the veil of story.