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Friday, 31 May 2013 00:00

'Stories We Tell' tells a captivating story

'Stories We Tell' tells a captivating story
Written by Diane Carson
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Never a slavish follower of hackneyed conventions, Sarah Polley has forged a fresh approach to film as a writer, actor, and director. She continues her unusual and provocative career with the personal documentary "Stories We Tell." Writer and director Polley pursues one of the toughest questions she could ask: Who really is my father?

As Polley explains in one of her brief commentaries in the film, she remembers her two sisters and two brothers occasionally teasing her, as the youngest, noting that Sarah didn't really look like her father. Both parents had careers as actors; her mother died when Sarah was 11. Now 34, Polley set out five years ago to pursue her paternity question, knowing her mother Diane was an extroverted woman, her father Michael more laid-back.

Sarah always knew that what truly captivated her was memory and, as her title accurately signals, the stories we tell each other and ourselves to define who we are. To that end, Polley includes a narration we watch Michael record plus interviews with her siblings and family friends, all of whom have slightly different versions of events, a kind of "Rashomon" subjectivity or Rorschach test. Polley supplements the various descriptions with photographs and super-8 movies.

At this past year's Telluride Film Festival, Polley said we know everyone has his or her own truth. Asking questions and exploring it, we learn about ourselves, something more important than historical facts. To maintain the integrity of individual perspectives and not present herself as THE definitive voice, Polley changed her original three-part structure to interweave the various versions, privileging no single point of view, including her own. Instead, Polley focuses on the fascinating ways memory transforms events into a unique narrative, and she includes surprising revelations to drive home her point.

Polley is a fascinating, brilliant storyteller, director of the 2006 Oscar nominated "Away from Her," which earned Julie Christie a Best Actress nomination and a Best Adapted screenplay nod for herself. More recently, in 2011, she directed the compelling "Take This Waltz," with Michelle Williams, Seth Rogen and Luke Kirby. "Stories We Tell" takes an honored place with these fine works. At a Landmark Theatre.

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