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Stories We Tell - Review

Stories We Tell

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 2 out of 5

SARAH Polley’s Stories We Tell is an intensely personal filmmaking experiment that intrigues for long periods before eventually feeling self-serving.

Inspired by a key moment in her family’s life, the film takes the form of a series of interviews with most of the people involved, showing how interpretations can differ of the same event and how each person was affected.

At first, the film starts out like a love letter to her family, especially her late mother (Diane) and how she was perceived by her husband, her children, her friends and the people she worked with as an actress. But then the incident occurs and the tone becomes darker and more melancholy.

It’s a revelation which, at the time, prompted much soul-searching, not least from Polley, whose subsequent desire to investigate further uncovers secrets that, in turn, expose raw feelings, all of which are captured in the raw interviews that Polley extracts from those nearest and dearest to her.

Admittedly, this makes for riveting viewing that, early on especially, is touching and amusing before becoming more serious and even poignant.

But there comes a point when Polley’s camera feels a little too probing and a little too intrusive while failing in some ways to arrive at the truth and understanding she is seeking.

Scenes where Polley instructs her father to repeat lines from his diary or recollections feel staged and even cruel to a certain extent, lacking a certain spontaneity. While one of the most telling points comes from the person (and we’re being deliberately vague so as not to ruin the film’s surprises) who says that the one perspective sorely missing is from Diane herself (all the rest being speculation clouded by time and perspective).

It’s at this point that the film provokes a bigger question on the nature of celebrity – one that even draws on everyday trends of living lives in public via Facebook and other social media forums.

Has privacy now been overtaken by the need to live our lives – and by extension air our laundry – in public? As such, who has Polley made her film for? And are some things best left and discussed in the intimate confines of home?

Stories We Tell is therefore a fascinating film in many ways, which may well even resonate emotionally at several points with viewers. But it also feels uncomfortably personal and more than a little self-indulgent.

At a time when so many celebrities are seeking more privacy from the press, here we have a celebrity feeling content to air their innermost feelings for all the world to see and judge. And that doesn’t feel like a good thing. As interesting and debate-worthy as Stories We Tell is, it ultimately fails to get my recommendation.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 108mins
UK Release Date: June 28, 2013