This is my review from when Stories We Tell was released in September 2013. I am reprinting it because it received a DVD release last week.
“When you are in the middle of a story, it isn’t a story at all, but only a confusion. It’s only afterwards that it becomes anything like a story at all. When you’re telling it, to yourself or to someone else.”- Margaret Atwood, ‘Alias Grace’
At the very beginning of ‘Stories We Tell’, Sarah Polley asks her cast of wildly entertaining family and friends to “describe the whole story,” which we don’t know yet, “in your own words”, to which many of them answer in disbelief, unsure of how to start. This is exactly how I feel about trying to review this. It’s just so winding and complex and offers so many things to discuss at length from love to fidelity to how events impact other people’s lives or people remember a certain person or how people take very different perspectives on events due to age etc. One thing I need to think about more before I try to fully write about it is how it draws a few, very interesting comparisons to ‘Take This Waltz’, and kind of reinforces one of the central themes of this film. It’s a very interesting companion piece as a result. Another is the reason it got made, after the story was going to be published by a journalist, and how they perceived the story, in contrast to Polley.
How do I begin to describe exactly what I loved and what is so amazing about this film? It was just perfect, even though saying that is contradictory to the whole idea that people have secrets and have multiple ways they present themselves to the world. It fits into something that Polley says that really creates a ‘bigger picture’ of how everything that was revealed came to be- which is that “the truth about the past is often ephemeral and difficult to pin down”. When reading and watching all the reviews, articles and interviews I’ve amassed while waiting what felt like a generation to see this, one of the many things that Polley has said that is really cool and really reinforces this is how when she was interviewing, she didn’t correct what the family members were saying, she let their version of the story fully be there. It really highlights how age or relationship can affect how things are told and overall perception, and that it’s important to have so many, differing perspectives, otherwise the ‘truth’ is manipulated and doesn’t have multiple layers. Events that occur can just reverberate, even thirty years into the future, still changing lives.
Somehow, even though much of the audience probably hasn’t experienced events like this, Polley makes it relevant and relatable through tying it to the ‘bigger picture’ I previously mentioned, along with other central ideas, and making it about something that many people have wondered- if someone close to them has a secret or what’s happened in their family. Through this connection, the revelations throughout the film etc, it become incredibly moving and affecting (I was in tears by the end). It becomes personal, you feel as though you know this family (I seriously want to be friends with all of them haha). When I was watching this, I feel as though time just stopped. I was just so engrossed and whisked away, wrapped up in this incredible film.
I could go on and on, tip-toeing around all the reveals and trying to keep as much under wraps as possible while saying what I just loved about this, but as I said before, there are just so many intricate themes that I could write about forever on, and I feel like everything could be a spoiler. The ‘little’ things are just so detrimental and affect it so much. Just go see it, and be as blissfully unaware as I was.
Stories We Tell received a limited release in September 2013.
M (infrequent coarse language), 109 mins.