Stories We Tell

Stories We Tell

  • Early in this documentary, Susy, the oldest sister, asks Sarah, the youngest, “Who would care about our stupid family?” It is the first of many powerful moments in director/filmmaker Sarah Polley’s analysis of memory, storytelling and relationships, at least in part because it acknowledges the very question many of us are asking ourselves as we start the film. In that single moment we instantly, suddenly, know the answer to Susy’s question: “Me.”
  • And we never stop caring, because Polley weaves together different versions of her family’s story with such delicate balance that it becomes a mystery, one we cannot wait to solve. Who are all of these people? How are they connected? How can this be the mother’s story if she isn’t one of the interviewees? And so many more questions I won’t spoil, some of which are left unanswered in a fashion perfectly befitting the movie.
  • Every one of the family members, including the director, has a moment in this film, a moment in which they make us feel something, in which they make us recognize some generally unspoken truth we are powerless to deny.
  • In that way, Stories We Tell has more to say than Sarah Polley’s on-screen explanations. This film is about the nature of memory, of course. Just as it is about how ephemeral the past can be, how mysterious those to whom we are closest sometimes remain, and how much effect seemingly simple choices can have through many years, on many more people than we could ever predict. But Stories We Tell is about even more than that. It’s also about how we can hurt someone we love as we try to protect someone else, maybe even including ourselves. It’s about how we cope with shocking revelations. And so much more.
  • Basically, I can sum up my thoughts on this picture as such: Stories We Tell is one of the best documentaries I have ever seen, ranking alongside The Color of Fear (1994).
  • Yet, I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge at least one flaw. At one point, Pauley reads an email correspondence in which she details, at some length, her reasons for making this picture. I wish she hadn’t, insofar as the email communicates the film’s themes a bit too directly for my tastes.
  • Let me end with this: perhaps more than any other 2013 film, I want to watch this one again, in four or five months, just to see what I remember. Why? I love this movie, and, as Stories We Tell reminds us, love can be shorter than forgetfulness.
  • Final Grade: A

11 thoughts on “Stories We Tell

  1. Good review, I loved the intimacy of the project, yet it somehow also maintained this sense of epicness as the entire family was introduced and everyone started becoming related. It was at times so dramatic that it didn’t even feel like a documentary. Certainly a boundary-pusher

    • Agreed. One of the more innovative films out there, it refuses to be leashed to genre, which is exactly what it needed to do given its themes and content. Such a beautifully made film.

  2. This is one that I need to see. I have been a fan of Miss Polly ever since I saw her in “The Sweet Hereafter” and “Go”. Glad she has become such a fantastic film maker. The fact that you described this as a mystery has my interest.

    • Mystery. Drama. Documentary. Reenactment. It won’t be chained by genre, which makes it both fresh and exciting. It’s one of the best films of the year.

      I highly recommend it.

      I haven’t seen either The Sweet Hereafter or Go. Sounds like I should?

  3. Okay, okay. I need to get a copy of this. My local theater doesn’t show a wide selection, so I end up waiting to get it on Netflix or Direct TV. I’m two hours from metropolitan access. I really like your taste and your reviews. You’re harsh, but when you really like something, it means something. Cheers!

    • I didn’t see this one in the theater either. Rented it from Netflix some time ago. I still have to see The Act of Killing, but it is hard for me to imagine that being better than this. This is just such a brilliant documentary.

      And I promise I don’t grade my students so harshly. 😉

      • For what it’s worth, it has pretty resoundingly positive reviews, both here on WordPress (the handful of folks who’ve seen it) and from professional critics.

        I had my eye on it for some time before I finally decided to watch it. I figured it would be really dumb, given it’s about a single family. I was very surprised by how quickly it grabbed me.

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