A few months ago, I discussed Sarah Polley’s “Stories We Tell,” and after having the chance to re-watch the film on DVD (Lionsgate), I stand by my initial declaration: It’s the best film I’ve seen so far this year.
In fact, watching it again made for an even richer experience. Once one knows the “truth” — of Polley’s parentage, and about her filmmaking style — it is a bit easier to focus on what is actually being said, shown, and shared.
Here is what I said after seeing the film in July:
“I can say with some certainty that ‘Stories We Tell’ is the best film I’ve seen in 2013, and, I think, one of the finest works about family and memory in recent years.
“Yet it’s a difficult film to discuss, as every detail seems like a spoiler. I noticed, in the time between the film’s TIFF 2012 premiere and my seeing it, that almost every review or piece about the film referenced ‘spoilers’ or included a ‘spoiler alert.’ I found that rather obnoxious, but now I see why that was so important.
“I think it’s imperative that one enter ‘Stories We Tell’ cold — spoiler-free, if you will. But I say that not only because of the film’s central ‘secret,’ which is alluded to in the film’s trailer, but because of … the rest of it. There was a moment that left me confused, breathless, and exhilarated, and that is the feeling that has lingered for me. Even discussing what Polley is actually up to here as a storyteller feels like a reveal.”
That is all true, undoubtedly. But I hate to focus too much on “the secret.” There is so much more to the film than that, truly.
Sheila O’Malley wrote an insightful review of the film for RogerEbert.com that summarizes what I love so much about it:
“Life is messy and Diane Polley’s narrative is messy. Stories told again and again have a way of neatening things up. Stories have a way of ironing out the wrinkles. Polley lets the wrinkles remain. By the end of ‘Stories We Tell,’ I am left with the feeling that there’s still so much I don’t know about Diane Polley. And what a fitting eulogy that is.”
Indeed, the story does not feel finished; how could it? It will never end, really. Polley implies that statement with the film’s final scene, a return to one of her interview subjects. The individual finally says something we’ve all been waiting to hear, reminding us that assuming we are being told the truth is quite silly.
As O’Malley asks, “Can the truth ever actually be known about anything?”
It seems fitting to discuss “Stories We Tell” now, days before the start of the Toronto International Film Festival. I was mostly unaware of the film until I was in Toronto last year. As my weekend progressed, however, there was noticeable buzz: Sarah Polley’s film is a TIFF treasure. It took me almost a year to see it, but my goodness, it was worth the wait.
DVD art courtesy of Lionsgate