Sydney Film Festival: Stories We Tell

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Sarah Polley is a bona fide talent, both in front of the lens and behind it. The Canadian actress confirmed her writing and directorial skills with 2011’s Take This Waltz – a stunning meditation on long-term romantic relationships. She reconfirms herself as a filmmaker with Stories We Tell, a truly incredible and totally enjoyable documentary about her family.

From the start, you know there’s something not being told and it hooks you immediately. It’s impossible to explain why this film is so brilliant without giving something away – even when the central secret is revealed, Polley still has a cinematic trick up her sleeve. It’s masterful storytelling – revealing truths without the slightest whiff of self indulgence.

Here, she lines up her father, siblings and significant others to tell “the story”. They’re great interviewees, and their words are highlighted by super 8 family films which keep things visually interesting. Exceptionally well edited, the story flows effortlessly. Much of the doco revolves around Polley’s late mother Dianne. Dianne was a force of nature. Gregarious and outgoing, always travelling a million miles an hour. Yet those around her suspected there was something she wasn’t telling.

Sarah Polley herself is a big part of this story but she keeps herself largely out of the frame, and yet, by the film’s end, we know how she feels about this story she tells. We know her.

There’s passion, compassion and love in this film – and, although this is deadly serious subject matter, quite a bit of humour (the last and loudest laugh is saved for very end).

There was something about this film – about the attitudes of those involved and how they’ve handled the situation – that just makes you feel good about life.  I felt enormous compassion for Michael, Polley’s articulate father, and I loved how he could have taken the road to self-pity but didn’t.

There was only one disappointing aspect about this screening – Polley was supposed to be in attendance and conduct a Q&A at the nearby Apple Store after the film. Her Sydney stopover was cancelled, ironically, due to “unforeseen family reasons”…

 

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