Review: Stories We Tell (2013

9 Sep


By Patricia Tobin

Stories We Tell follows Canadian writer/director Sarah Polley in uncovering her very own family secrets. Following her mother’s death when she was eleven, Polley started growing close to her father, retired British actor Michael Polley.  Her parents’ tumultuous relationship was an open secret, and Polley soon discovers the truth behind her mother’s extramarital affairs that might change her life forever.

Polley’s investigation behind her family history includes interviews with relatives and close friends, and re-created home movies footage, shot on Super-8. This blend of actual interrogation and fictional sequences reveals not only the multiple versions a story often consists of, but also the idiosyncratic nature of human beings. The interviews showcase Polley’s earnest siblings giving candid anecdotes, but sometimes opposing views on their parents’ relationship. The fictional home movies are certainly nostalgic – they help give audience members a chance to imagine what really happened, and is perhaps, also a mechanism for Polley to cope with the past. In addition, Polley‘s father, Michael, provides the voiceover narration of his own personal account, and Polley deliberately includes scenes of her father rehearsing the lines. This fusion of the real and the not-real plays with the fleeting nature of truth and memory, and questions just which account could be trusted. Furthermore, this interweaving of juxtaposing scenes recognises that all the different sides of any story are just so human.

Polley’s deeply personal tale encapsulates the core elements of every family – love, unity, and unconditional acceptance.  It acknowledges certain issues of belonging and aspects of identity as well, but the subject of family eventually becomes overshadowed by the notion of storytelling.

The most striking feature of Stories We Tell is Polley’s assertive authorship that shines in every scene. Throughout the documentary, her careful and calculated editing is highly evident – after all, she pieces together her family history to form a compelling narrative. Her authorial voice is firm and it is never lost amongst the numerous voices. This highly conscious, metafictional quality of the film gives rise to her own side of the story.

Stories We Tell is heart-warming and poignant, using intimate tales to present a film that appeal to all. As a documentary about storytelling, Polley’s discourse of intimacy and authenticity has a distinctly human feel. Polley is not afraid to reveal personal vulnerabilities and aspects about infidelity. Ultimately, Stories We Tell draws from the age-old tradition of storytelling. Narratives bring families together, or even apart, but most of all, it moulds individuals to who they are today.

Patricia Tobin is a full-time university student and a part-time marathon napper. She writes theatre reviews for ArtsHub and sub-edits for Lot’s Wife. She tweets at @havesomepatty, and writes about film at


One Response to “Review: Stories We Tell (2013”

  1. missellen September 9, 2013 at 10:33 pm #

    Looking forward to seeing this, such an interesting story.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: