PLOT: Filmmaker Sarah Polley interviews her family members to discuss a secret that changed her life forever.
WHO'S IT FOR? Stories We Tell goes beyond a demographic that enjoys a great documentary. If you simply like good narratives, don't miss out on this film. And if you liked Polley's previous Take This Waltz, Stories We Tell will be yet another gift.
Half of the journey in telling a great story is finding the right subject. For this endeavor in documentary, the highly honest Polley goes inward, into a secret that remained uncovered in the past years, but with truths that would eternally change its witnesses. Using her brothers, sisters, family friends, and father as documentary subjects, Polley shares with audiences the tale of a family tree mystery that directly influences who she is as a person, and also as an open book filmmaker.
In Stories We Tell, Polley finds very rich characters in her subjects, each with their own perspective on a wild story that no one can seem to fully comprehend. Some of them are more comfortable with Polley's proposition (and the cameras) more than others. But with Polley's own connection to the story, this unique tale is endowed with many candid voices, which maintain the genuine nature of family storytelling.
Polley's father, Michael, a former actor, writer, and sweet looking man in a leather coat, is given center stage as the film's narrator. Often filmed alone, he is shown in the documentary reading his voice-over in a recording booth, while Polley periodically stops him. Instantly, she transforms from listening daughter to storytelling filmmaker.
Michael Polley's narration, a poetic treasure in itself as delivered with a beautiful voice, is not just the only aesthetic quality that gives this sweet story the delicate touch it needs. Director Polley also enlivens the film by seamlessly melding the present with the past through Super 8 film footage, which also exposes the honesty and lack of honesty in the stories we choose to tell, and the ones we don't. To create the welcome familial nature from such images, the film is peppered with pretty old soul piano ditties, along with soft soundtrack choices like "Skinny Love" by Bon Iver.
Like any good story should, this portrait of the past turns its multi-generational intervention into something that is as important to us as its first-hand witnesses. Collectively, their stories achieve a grand narrative, celebrating the surprising poetry that so oddly, but so beautifully, finds its way into non-fictional life.
FINAL SCORE: 9/10