Truths and memories aren’t just subjective, they’re often profoundly personal too – a maxim that’s magnificently evoked in Canadian actress-filmmaker Sarah Poley’s enthralling, deceptively complex and exquisitely genre-bending diary film Stories We Tell. Highlighting the subjectivity of eyewitness testimonies that adds diverse perspectives to the same “truth”, Polley delightfully chronicled a ravishingly personal story deciphering her enigmatic mother and her own parentage. Diane Polley, her late mom who succumbed to cancer when Sarah was just 11, was a lively, charismatic woman who charmed everyone with her vivacious presence, but faced pain and crises herself – being forced to leave her kids behind from her first marriage by a parochial Toronto legal system; never getting to realize her potential during her loving but staid marriage to the exceptionally liberal but emotionally reserved actor-writer Michael; being torn in her marital fidelity upon falling in love with left-leaning Montreal-based film producer Harry Gulkin. The latter aspect, in turn, also formed the springboard for layered exploration of the two fascinating men who both loved Diane until her tragic death, and, therefore, finally, eventual revelation of Sarah’s father. The artistically eclectic formal choices employed were especially engrossing – intimate yet freewheeling interviews with her two dads and an assortment of siblings, step-siblings and others; soulful narration by Michael from his memoir; and faux home video footage which subverted the lines between fact and fiction. The private nature of the story aside, the docu also subtly traversed a string of existential inquiries borne out of Sarah’s leftbank political beliefs – feminism and woman’s agency, freedom of marital and sexual choices, familial fluidity, personal as political – and these made this, apart from gently affecting and poignant, powerful and stirring too.
Director: Sarah Polley
Genre: Documentary/Diary Film