Stories We Tell (2013)

Stories We Tell

A few minutes into Stories We Tell, Sarah Polley’s documentary about her family history, I decided I wasn’t going to like the movie. I have a natural disinclination towards documentaries built on recollections. Stylistically they’re built on talking heads, recreations and snippets of stock footage – a far cry from the cinematic creativity behind most fictional films – with the assumption that because this is a true story it’s more meaningful.

Except it turns out that Polley’s film is more interested in examining the truth of the story of the intricacies of her family history as it is the history itself. Her candid interviews with her close family members prove to be contradictory and complicated, contributing to a knotted web of half-remembered facts and anecdotes. It coalesces to something meaningful and emotional but never entirely consistent.

Documentaries rooted in the past are challenged by the fallibility of memory and the way we shape our own experiences to a neat narrative. Life isn’t neat enough to be contained in a two hour film; Stories We Tell recognises that, interrogates that, and captures the shape of one person’s life (that of Polley’s mother) regardless. It proved far more intelligent than I had initially expected.4 stars

14 thoughts on “Stories We Tell (2013)

  1. You’re so right about life not being neat enough to fit into the narrative of a film. And because Stories We Tell knew that, I found myself quite fascinated by the film. Nice review here man. I’m still shocked this one didn’t get more attention, Oscar nom or otherwise.

    • It really did a great job of convincing you it would be a traditional neat retelling of someone’s life before inverting its approach. Thanks – it does seem surprising that this didn’t get an Oscar nomination (though I’d still rank The Act of Killing slightly above this).

  2. Amen.

    I had decided I wasn’t going to like this one before I even saw it. Actually put off viewing it for months after its release, only to finally cave. And then to be just as impressed as you by Polley’s direction. She made this something more than it had any right to be (which is why it made my Top Ten of 2013).

    • As I said to Mark above, it would have been in my top 10 of last year as well – if I had seen it! It’s a really hard film to sell, since it sounds so conventional on the surface. I wish it had received an Oscar nomination; if nothing else, it would have convinced many more people to watch it!

      • In my round up of the Documentary nominees, I said much the same. This one is, in my opinion, the second best doc I of last year, behind only The Act of Killing, and it was far superior to the middling Dirty Wars and Cutie and the Boxer, neither of which deserved a nomination, at least not over Stories We Tell.

  3. Pingback: Double Feature: Life Itself (2014) and 20,000 Days on Earth (2014) | ccpopculture

  4. Pingback: Documentary Run-Down: Amy; What Happened, Miss Simone?; Going Clear and Citizenfour | ccpopculture

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s