Friday 24 November 2017

A family's stories are told so well

Director Sarah Polley uncovers her own family's secrets
Director Sarah Polley uncovers her own family's secrets

Paul Whitington

Film Review: Stories we tell (15A, limited release, 109 minutes) 3 STARS

Director: Sarah Polley Stars: Peter Evans, Rebecca Jenkins, Michael Polley, Sarak Polley, Harry Gulkin

Sarah Polley has been doing things her own way for a very long time. As a child actress, she fell out with her principal employers Disney after attending an awards ceremony wearing a peace badge in protest against the first Gulf War.

She turned to directing in the mid-2000s, winning praise for her Alzheimer's drama Away from Her, in 2006, and even more praise for the 2011 romantic drama Take This Waltz.

In Stories We Tell, Polley takes on a very different type of challenge – a sometimes painfully intimate documentary that's part family memoir, part racy thriller.

Sarah was only 11 when her mother died of cancer, and in a way Diane Polley is the posthumous star of Stories We Tell.

In jokey but heartfelt to-camera testimonies, Sarah's older brothers and sisters paint a picture of a lively, vivacious, almost frenetic woman who loved life and lived it to the full. Diane fell in love with English actor Michael Polley when she saw him starring in a Toronto production of Harold Pinter's The Caretaker.

They married and children followed, but the couple were not well matched.

Diane was earthy and passionate, Michael reserved and very English and, says one of his sons, convinced that oral sex was something "they did in France".

Stories We Tell follows the unearthing of a long-kept family secret, and attempts to tell a story through the recollected testimonies of Diane's husband, children, colleagues and friends.

Cleverly, Polley asked her father to narrate, and his clipped, reserved tone is nicely at odds with the sometimes sensational events he recalls.

What emerges is a portrait not just of one woman but an entire extended family, who talk and laugh and remember the one person who is not in a position to comment, and might not have been over the moon about having her life so very publically dissected.

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