Review: Stories We Tell

Promo poster for Stories We Tell In the pixelated haze of memory, we enter a cycle of destruction and creation, as implicit in the act of remembering is the simultaneous act of forgetting, and thus, a story is born. The memories of an afternoon in the SURG studio were not far behind me as I rode in the lift up to the 18th floor of number one, Market Street, and the private theatre that resided in my future, waiting to become the partially obscured series of recollections that will fuel this review.

The film that would play was called Stories We Tell, the third feature – and first non-fictional – film of Canadian Sarah Polley’s directorial career. To call this feature non fiction belies the rawness and power that is behind its central concept: that it is in a sense autobiographical, as it writes the story of Polley’s life through the lens of her family’s recollections of her mother, Diane, and how her actions some thirty years prior have resonated into the future and touched all their lives.

Given the freedom to be experimental in this project, Polley clearly relished the opportunity, using a series of interviews with her extended family, edited together into what I can only assume is the story that resonates most with her. We see transitions from sharp, clear images delivered from steady tripods as the interviewees answer questions, to hand-held cameras that capture some of the impromptu feeling on set – at the various households of Polley’s relatives – to the most striking, dazzling aspect of this film: the Super 8.

A frame of Super 8

For those of us, myself included, to whom the words ‘Super 8’ mean nothing, this type of film is most easily brought to mind by picturing 1970s or 80s home videos, in all their grainy glory. The gaps between pixels in the Super 8 – the film was actually sourced authentically from people’s garages and attics – invoke a sense of nostalgia, and with that feeling a sense of something lost, perhaps having slipped through those grainy gaps and out of time. In Stories We Tell the scenes shot in Super 8 are re-enactments of old family memories, and cast perfectly. They are entirely fabricated, yet hold an eerie power to captivate and give a sense of longing for times past. There is a sense, too, that Polley has managed to pave a celluloid path to a mother who passed away when she was young, giving her a connection to what would otherwise be out of reach.

The storytelling itself is poignant, often funny, and above all reminds us of the tenuous nature of truth and the redemptive power of feeling that you mattered in another person’s life. The stories told sometimes diverge on key points and weave back together, with often humorously emphatic agreement over some details. The mystery, passion and drama of one family is courageously unveiled by an intriguing film talent in Polley, who has managed to bring together her relatives around the common thread of Diane.

Stories We Tell is being released through Palace Films, opening to the public on September 26, and is a must-see this Spring.

Max, Secretary (: