Review: Stories We Tell

“Love is so short, forgetting is so long,” quotes a major character in Canadian actor/writer/director Sarah Polley’s gorgeous, quietly daring family documentary. A memorial to her late mother, Diane, an actress who smiled like Marilyn Monroe and conducted her love life just as chaotically, it consists of frank interviews with the extended Polley clan interspersed with extraordinary amounts of sun-bleached Super-8 footage.

For all her actorly indiscretion, Diane left a litter of mysteries behind her, which Polley attempts to solve on camera. “Is this the tsunami she unleashed when she went?” she asks, as one of the film’s occasional narrators, “and all of us still flailing in her wake?”

Making a meta-documentary about your own past may sound pretentious, but the Polleys are so charming and down-to-earth (older brother Michael should have his own TV show), and their pain so tangible, it’s an absolute heart-breaker. This could be anyone’s family. It could be yours. You might wish it was. At the very least, it’s the kind of film that makes you think of all the people you miss, then call them.

But Polley’s not just trying to make us cry. A talented filmmaker who’s worked with the very best (David Cronenberg, Don McKellar, Michael Winterbottom), she lets her tale unfold like a soap-opera The Usual Suspects, with every character an unreliable narrator, each memory blurred into watercolour wash. Eventually, when you realise the extent of the (self?) deceptions on display, you’ll see there’s no such thing as The Truth, only stories we tell. But what stories…

‘Stories We Tell’ Movie Times