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Different lives, different truths: "Was it Tom, or Wayne, or Jeff?"
on 11 November 2013
"Stories We Tell" (2012 release from Canada; 108 min.) is the third film from Canadian writer-director Sarah Polley (after "Away From Her" and "Take This Waltz", both excellent). But this is her first documentary, and not just any documentary: this movie looks at the life and times of her parents, and also whether her dad is really her biological father. Her mom Diane comes across as a person who fills the room with energy, whereas her dad Michael is the more introverted type. Nevertheless the two strike up a romance leading to marriage, and eventually kids. Sarah was the third and youngest. At some point in her childhood she is getting teased about not looking like her dad at all, and it becomes sort of a running joke, until it isn't a joke anymore. Sarah eventually decides to investigate the rumors, and gathers all the characters for interviews: her dad (we learn that her mom has passed away many years ago), but also her siblings including two more from a prior marriage that Diane had prior to meeting Michael, and other assorted folks in the theatre and art community in Canada. To tell you much more would surely ruin your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all turns out, but if you have seen the trailer for the movie (which I had) and wonder "was it Tom, or Wayne, or Jeff?", you will be surprised with how it all turns out!
Several comments: first and foremost, this movie shows once again that if you have a strong story to tell, you don't a superhero or specical effects to keep the movie going. I couldn't believe how quickly the time passed. Second, this is a deeply personal movie obviously and yet it resonates with a broader audience because of the universal themes of love, family, and acceptance. Third, I was amazed at the wealth of home movies that were used in the movie, only later to find out that many of them were reenactments filmed on 8mm film. I generally do not like reenactments in documentaries but here it workes because, frankly, I didn't realize for most of the movie that they were reenactments. That aside, most telling is a scene late in the documentary where someone asks Sarrah directly why she is making this movie in this particular way, and she explains how different people see different truths of the same events and hence she brought it from a multi-person perspective. (This is clearly not to the liking of one of the main characters... whatch why!)
Bottom line: this is another great movie from Sarah Polley. The screening at my local art-house theatre back in June here in Cincinnati where I saw this, was very well attended for a late afternoon showing. If you love documentaries, you cannot go wrong with this. "Stories We Tell" is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!