Gilbert Sorrentino, Aberration of
In my family, we’ve been fans of Sarah Polley since Ramona, the ten-episode CBC series that aired on PBS when our children were tykes. In the documentary Stories We Tell (2013), Polley seeks out a crucial truth of her family’s history, interviewing her father, her siblings, and family friends and relations, all of whom tell their stories — what they know, and what they don’t know. As you might suspect from the list of interviewees, the crucial truth concerns Polley’s mother Diane, an actress and casting director who died in 1990, when Polley was eleven.
Stories We Tell has been described as a matter of mystery and contradiction, but there’s really very little of Rashomon here: what happened becomes clear early on. The real strength of the film is its presentation of love and marriage and family life as the work of fallible people who make difficult choices and must learn to live with the consequences. Or to rewrite Tolstoy: All families are imperfect, but each is imperfect in its own way. A second strength is the film’s foregrounding of the work of storytelling. In one of my favorite scenes, Polley’s actor father reads in a recording studio his own written account of his marriage as Polley directs, asking him to reread here, slow down there. What becomes clearer as the film goes on is that Polley is telling a story, one that not only explores but also imagines and recreates the past.
Stories We Tell has some flaws. The film runs a little long, seeming to wrap up at about the ninety-minute mark before continuing for another eighteen minutes. Greater variety in the circumstances of interviewing would lend the film greater visual interest. (I’m thinking, of all things, of the variety of interview settings in Claude Lanzmann’s documentary Shoah: a barber shop, a café, an open field.) But these are minor complaints. Stories We Tell is unusual, inventive, and filled with humanity. Perhaps it will arrive at a theater near you.
You can read more about Stories We Tell at the film’s website. Careful: the trailer gives away more than you might want to know.
Thanks to Mike Brown for putting this film into my front brain.
[In Sorrentino’s novel, the repeated question What happened? is Marie Recco’s way of asking what went wrong in her marriage.]
Friday, July 5, 2013
By Michael Leddy at 9:00 AM