Film Review – Stories We Tell (2012)

Stories We Tell- post

Title – Stories We Tell (2012)

Director – Sarah Polly (Take This Waltz)

Cast – Sarah Polly and her family

Plot – Canadian actress/director Sarah Polly sets out to discover information concerning her family and discovers more than she bargained for in the process, a process that includes many a varied storyteller.

“When you’re in the middle of a story, it isn’t a story at all”

Review by Eddie on 27/02/2014

Sarah Polly’s intimate and unique documentary Stories We Tell was one of last year’s biggest festival and critical hits in the doco field, with her fresh approach to telling a story using 8mm film to recreate the past, and talking heads to tell the present hitting a chord with audiences. As one of the most critically acclaimed movies of last year hype for the movie remains strong and in that respect Stories We Tell is an overrated movie.

To get the most out of Stories one must be wholly invested in the concerns of Polly’s family and the eventual revelations that come forth from her questioning and investigating of the past, but if your investment is minimal as I found mine was any emotional impact the film clearly has for many is dulled and therefore the film as a whole nothing more than a slightly intriguing piece of life in all its glories and in all its hidden secrets. It must be said however that the films early stages are quite promising and downright riveting it’s not until revelations are made clear that the film starts to struggle and you get the sense this is more a film for Polly herself than we the watchers.

It’s nice that Polly chooses to air some very personnel and deep seeded emotions in the way of this film but one question’s if what is being found out is of much benefit for someone not in the Polly family. Great documentaries like Searching for Sugarman or Dear Zachary work on emotional levels because what is being discovered as the film and participants go on is relatable in more large scale and universal ways, Stories showpiece just does not have the power to affect like this. The film also has a waft of self-importance that allows proceedings to sadly go in circles and length wise drag out to near two hours which with this format gets old fast.

Being critical as I have been, Stories is still a movie that will appeal to many a wide ranging audience and for people that may have been through similar family circumstances a tale that will really hit home. For the rest of us though Stories sadly is one of last year’s more overrated documentaries and in a genre that is consistently producing the goods it will be quickly forgotten in the wave of other quality entries.

3 storytellers out of 5

14 responses to “Film Review – Stories We Tell (2012)

  1. Good review. I think this one near perfect as a story about the ways the past affect the present, the way our decisions impact those around us and the ways those we’re close to can remain a mystery to us, and everyone else they know. Which is to say I do not think it one family’s story; I think one family is the vehicle that tells a tale about the human condition.

    It’s also to say I like it a whole lot more than you do.

    • Very interesting thoughts mate, I just sadly couldn’t really connect to this one and found revelations within the film not that shattering to my system. Many spoke about the films “twist” but to be honest you could see from a mile off and I wonder how the family didn’t see it to. A unique film none the less.

  2. Good review Eddie. I did think it was a bit manipulative in the way it told its story, and even then, once the shock of the story is revealed, Polley can’t help but go back to saying the same thing over and over again, but it is truly fascinating. Especially since this is such a known-talent that seems so comfortable with letting her families history be projected to plenty of strangers out there in the world. Got to give her some credit for that, because I sure as hell wouldn’t have been able to do the same thing.

    • It seemed to me mate that it did go round and round towards that last 30 – 45 minutes and really affected the overall piece. It was fine work by Polly though with juggling all the everyday, achieve and re-enactment footage.

  3. I really enjoyed this film, but I think that has a lot to do with what I find interesting about her other films and her unique take on relationships. I almost found that I was finding similar themes embedded in a documentary as I was in her movies. I think that the way the film was constructed and the way it unravels is a telling clue as to the way her mind works, and she treats her real-life subjects as characters that carry just as much metaphorical weight and theme projection as any other character she’s written.

  4. It’s interesting to read a different point of view than the ones I am used to – including mine – i.e. a positive review. I don’t agree that you have to feel invested in Polley’s family woes because I believe it’s more a story about memory and the way we perceive things and how that can affect our memories, that’s what got me hooked! Perhaps there’s the fan of Polley in me speaking, as well as the person working with elderly with dementia, but there was something much more universal that made the film captivating and powerful for me… hence why it got the # 3 spot on my 2013 Top 10 list! But to each his own! 😉

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