Stories We Tell Screen 24 articles

Stories We Tell


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  • A family is given an opportunity to confess, only to end up crawling up its own ass. What starts as a reasonably compelling investigation into the ways that love begets deception, including self-deception, grows less illuminating as it proceeds, offering everyone screen time in the interests of fairness. The messiness of the narrative becomes reductive and the lack of a firm perspective becomes a detriment, making the film feel artless and unshapen instead of profound and humane.

  • ...I would have liked to have had a more straightforward interview with [Polley] to gain further insight into her memories of her mother and the impact her choices have made on Polley’s life. It was not immediately clear to me that the 8mm home movies in the film were re-creations of events or memories, until the funeral scene... And then suddenly I felt very stupid, tricked even. It seemed as if she had pulled a bit of a fast one, a real F for Fake type of stunt.

  • Stories We Tell is almost perfectly structured: for all the assumedly volatile emotions on display, there’s nothing messy about it at all. This carefully wrought economy of effects would be more impressive if it wasn’t so clearly straining to be just that, or if Polley didn’t so assiduously annotate her accomplishments in real time.

  • At one point a key player who’s skeptical about the project charges that opening the story up to other people would be a democratic lie. Polley disagrees, and while it’s her method of communal storytelling by crowd-sourcing that’s ultimately privileged, there’s an ambivalent and even steely sort of generosity to how she lets his objection, a critique of her right to even make this film, stand.

  • Films about self-discovery don’t come much more incisive than Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell.

  • Like a well-planned treasure hunt, the film is a map of twists that gives clues but no answers until Polley decides the audience has earned them. Meanwhile, her hard-hitting interrogation process brings out the most human sides of those she questions, most notably her two fathers. It's a brave film through which Polley recounts how her mother endured years of the sort of nagging fear that accompanies the ritual of covering one's tracks, all in the name love...

  • This is not a depressing film — it’s a lively one, sprightly and playful, with constant cuts to staged Super 8-style recreations of scenes that were never filmed, but live on in a collective memory like ghosts. Polley’s fiction films (“Away From Her,” “Take This Waltz”) are heavy, if also often perceptive. It’s clear from “Stories We Tell” that she’s at her best when she doesn’t look like she’s trying.

  • Some parts of this feel exploitative, others extraneous, and I wasn’t huge on the first information-withholding stunt, which makes for the most irritating rug-pull reveal in an otherwise solid movie since A Separation. But the basic story of a mother and daughter separated by gulfs of time and death, their stories linked by heritage but disconnected by experience, is sharply realized.

  • Fell in love immediately, because transparency is one of the qualities I most cherish in a documentary and Polley leads with tons of footage that openly acknowledges the nature of the project and her personal connection to everyone who appears in it... Somewhere around the halfway mark, though—and I'm embarrassed that it took me so long—I started getting suspicious about the amount of home-movie footage Polley's family had apparently shot...

  • A very pleasurable experience less because of Polley's meta-fictional Investigation into Memory and The Human Condition and more because of the film's loving portrait of an eccentric family/"family," but I'm less interested in talking about how her father resembles Einstein and her brother has some awkward laughing fits than I am in questioning the film's strategies.

  • Polley protests so much about what she's doing... that you get suspicious and start to wonder what her real motivation might be in making the movie - specifically, given where it goes in the last few minutes, if it might be undeclared guilt, or just confusion: Having finally found her true, biological father, she discovers - despite the film's very conspicuous emphasis on DNA, genes, etc - that she actually has more affection for the man who raised her.

  • It’s how she goes about this investigation that makes Stories We Tell so exceptional, as an unbelievable plethora of home movies from the ’70s trace the arc of her mother’s life from happiness to disillusion and back.

  • Stories We Tell hints at a meta-film without ever abandoning the genuine spirit and search that oozes with the perfectly calibrated balance of headiness and poignancy. Because of this, and Polley's exploration of her late mother, the film feels special in the most alarmingly personal way, and not only because it's so obviously close to Polley.

  • By any measure, Stories We Tell is [Polley's] most daring, formally inventive work...

  • It’s to the director’s credit that, when the subject of Diane’s infidelity comes up, we already have an absorbing compassion for her. But does she deserve it? The movie then springs a stunner of a revelation, requiring a rethink of much of the previous material. Obviously, that’s not grist for this review, but let it be said that in her three films—Away from Her, Take This Waltz and now this—Polley has gone further into the thorny subject of forgiveness than any of her peers.

  • It's probably safe, at this point, to consider Polley a "Who knows what she'll do next?" filmmaker, à la Michael Winterbottom. But Stories We Tell is so ingeniously constructed—and so nakedly intimate—that it may be a watershed... She shapes the picture into a riddle that keeps us guessing every minute, and what she ends up with is so oddly shaped that it could be categorized as an experimental film. But it's too warm, and too generous toward all its players, to be off-putting.

  • Self-aware is the key concept: The sense that life is essentially performative is reinforced throughout by Polley’s fond but firm direction of her actor-father’s line readings. Similarly, the skillfully produced ersatz home movies not only fill in the gaps in the Polley family record but suggest that memory itself is a construct.

  • “Stories We Tell” has a number of transparent virtues, including its humor and formal design, although its most admirable quality is the deep sense of personal ethics that frames Ms. Polley’s filmmaking choices. Although it touches on intimate points, many recounted by Michael Polley in voice-over, the movie is revelatory rather than exploitative.

  • [In Away from Her, Take This Waltz and Stories We Tell,] Polley experiments with the expected narrative structures, pushing us to consider not just the meaning of stories but how the way we tell the story can change its impact. The interviews in "Stories We Tell" are amazingly intimate. This is a family talking to each other. Everyone still misses Diane. The loss they have suffered is incalculable. The questions Polley asks are not always easy. The answers aren't simple either.

  • It’s the same in every family. Everyone remembers differently. You might have a clear memory of being a kid and your sister jumping on your stomach till you threw up; but she swears it was the other way round. The way families tell their stories with totally different meanings is at the heart of this beautiful and funny doc by Canadian actress-filmmaker Sarah Polley...

  • The use of reconstructed footage shot on a Super 8 camera closes the film with startling ‘off-camera’ shots of the adult Sarah directing her mother, played byRebecca Jenkins. Canny in their uncanniness, the two women’s intimate conversation held in privacy under the dark folk song of the soundtrack, these impossibly moving and movingly impossible shots are the telling heart of the story.

  • The film is especially compelling as a cinematic rendering of retrospection: we get to see pained, humored, longing faces and bodies in the process of searching for answers, recalling images--shown to us as 8mm recreations--that threaten to be lost without the creative reconstruction of memoir. What makes the film a joy, as well, is its rendering of the fact that we are rarely more animated--more spirited--than when we are conjuring the past in conversation.

  • By inviting others’ voices and ideas into [Polley's] story, by representing her self, her subjectivity as distinctly “revealed in relationship,” (1) and by self-consciously laying bare her process throughout, describing and depicting her at times tentative and ambivalent methods and allowing the questions, skepticism, and contradictions coming from her interviewees into the final film, Polley envisions her theory of a choral, relational autobiography _and_ its practice.

  • Stories We Tell that really bowled me over, not only because it fulfills the promise of Polley’s first feature Away From Her (2006), but also because it’s like a sister film in some respects to one of my continuing favourites, Françoise Romand’s mind-boggling 1985 Mix-up...Like Polley’s film, Mix-up is an artful blend of fiction and non-fiction, a therapeutic unpacking of family dysfunction via recountings and re-enactments with a novelistic density, at once playful and profound...

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