The Stories We Tell

May 20, 2013 at 9:57 am | Posted in 2013 | Leave a comment
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◊ ◊ ◊ ½

No matter how small scale and uninteresting a documentary may appear to me initially, when it gets a 93% on Metacritic and its lowest score is 75%, it’s hard for me to say no.  This film is the story of the director, Sarah Polley, a 34-year old Canadian actress best known in the U.S. for lead roles in “Go,” “Dawn of the Dead,” and “The Sweet Hereafter.”  She wants to tell the story of her mother, who died of cancer two days after Polley’s 11th birthday.  However, this film (which took 5 years to make) goes in all sorts of interesting directions as she slowly discovers there was more to her mother than she had known.  The title of the film comes from the notion that our memories shape our realities and much has been made of the different (and sometimes contradictory) ways that various people remembered Polley’s mother.  However, I did not find that aspect of the film to be that surprising or that interesting; it wasn’t as though one person remembered her to be a saint and another to be a serial killer.  Rather, they all remembered the aspects of her they saw, which seems much like real life.  This, to me, was the film’s strength.  In it, I saw very real people being very human.  They were awkward and embarrassed on camera.  They hemmed and hawed as they dug into memories.  And they were all very genuine and present on screen as they tried to give their sister/daughter/ friend’s child whatever it was they thought she needed.  It was touching and really very sweet.  The critics I have read all make much of not revealing the twists the film took.  Because it is real life, I admit that they are hard to see coming but I don’t think that is where the real energy of the film lies.  And interestingly, none of the critics I read mentioned (perhaps didn’t notice?) what I thought was the biggest and most interesting twist of the film.  For those of you who see this film,  pay close attention to the closing credits.  As we were reading them, a shock ran through the audience that had the whole group abuzz.   Here is your spoiler alert: if you plan on seeing the film, don’t read any further as I think this should be a discovery made after the film. Still here?  Okay.  The film is made up, in almost equal parts, of current interviews of Polley’s family and family friends inter-spliced with old grainy super-8 images of the past.  These include her young mother, her parents meeting, early images of them in various plays (they were both actors), her young siblings, friends, others and a young Polley herself.  They add much to the atmosphere of the film and sometimes beautifully punctuate the voice over interview we are hearing.  The film would not be the same without them.  So, imagine the audience’s surprise when, in the closing credits, we get the list of actors who played all those parts.  As it turns out, all of those beautiful super-8 images were created by Polley for the film and everyone in them is an actor, some of whom look uncannily like the people they are playing.  It is a shocking effect that makes we consider seeing the whole film again.  Some might be offended by the “deception” but I thought it was a beautiful and creative use of artistic license that helped shape the whole film.  For me, it really lifted this documentary above the ordinary.

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