Review: Stories we tell

16:00, Feb 28 2014
Stories we tell
DELVING DEEP: Stories we tell offers universal truths about the little lies we tell "for the sake of others"

Having touchingly and hauntingly captured human frailties of others in Away From Her and Take This Waltz, Canadian actress turned director Sarah Polley turns her gaze and her lens on her own family in this surprisingly confessional and deeply compelling documentary.

Fans of 1990s sitcom Mad About You might initially feel a similar vibe to that show's faux doco The Buchmans but such comparisons quickly melt away as like Polley herself we're swept along by the family mystery she gradually starts to solve.

Yes, what starts out as a desire to know more about her actress and casting director Dianne, who died when Polley was just 11, eventually turns into a true voyage of self-discovery for Polley herself.

Through conversations with her family and her parents friends and fellow actors she learns how they met, how different they really were and how she came so close to not existing at all (pregnant at age 42 Dianne was worried about complications and was on her way to the abortion clinic when she changed her mind), as well as one revelation to will truly change her life.

While this make it sound like a big screen version of an episode of the BBC series Who Do You Think You Are, Stories We Tell has an intimacy and endearingly shoddy production values the Beeb would never allow.

Sound booms are deliberately left in shot, Polley records conversations on an 8mm camera before and inbetween the more formal set ups and she and her brothers and sisters regularly take the mickey out of one another (apparently the young Sarah thought her mother was Lucielle Ball), leavening what could have been a maudlin, navel-gazing project.   

And while on the face of it, Stories seems such a personal project it also offers universal truths about the little lies we tell "for the sake of others", how one generation's actions can influence the next and how the same set of circumstances affect different people in different ways.

During the documentary, Polley admits she had one rule while making Stories - that everyone's point of view would be told, no matter how contradictory. The result is a story of great sadness, great joy and great entertainment.