Thursday, June 6, 2013
STORIES WE TELL (2013)
Sarah Polley (best known for performances in the ebullient GO and the devastating THE SWEET HEREAFTER) has evolved into a filmmaker of exceptional merit. AWAY FROM HER, her sensitive adaptation of Alice Munroe’s short story “The Bear Came Over The Mountain,” earned her an Oscar® nomination, and her tender direction helped earn Julie Christie the same. In her new film the writer/director turns documentarian and aims the camera at her own family (and sometimes herself) to explore through collective memory the life of her vivacious mother, Diane, who died in 1990 when Polley was 11 years old. For this project she enlists father Michael, brothers John and Mark, sisters Susy and Joanna, and several family friends and colleagues, some under mild duress, to tell from beginning to end their story of Diane. With these storytellers’ recollections, Polley combines archival footage, seamless reenactments, and written narration recited by Michael, at times punctuated by her request for a line redo, to create an idiosyncratic and deeply personal story. By definition a documentary is factual and objective, but in practice the documenter’s point-of-view prevents true objectivity. Polley is a shrewd enough filmmaker to use this unconventional approach to underscore the elusiveness of objective fact, and gives each story, even those that seem to contradict, equal credence. In a pivotal sequence she shows the danger of presupposition by revealing how one direct investigation leads to a dead end, while a tangential one bears unexpected fruit. Wryly referring to her interview style as an interrogation, Polley is not afraid to ruffle feathers. But her persistence pays off with funny, bracing candor from many of her subjects, particularly the touching Michael. By and large Polley avoids the precious, a real danger inherent in material this close. Instead she transcends the personal and finds the universal. Her film reminds us that our lives are but stories we construct, through memory and action. In some lives we play major roles; in others mere bit parts. And sometimes we must allow our story to change in order to discover who we truly are.