by tt stern-enzi
at 02:37 PM | Permalink
There is a story embedded in this review. Maybe, in fact, this isn’t a
film review at all, just a story, several stories, like little
assignations – drawing a reference there to a Joyce Carol Oates
collection of short stories that triggered in me a desire, for the first
time in my adult life right after college, to pick up the proverbial
pen and write. The Assignation assembled pieces that were
brief, sometime no more than a paragraph long, but even the shortest of
the shorts told so much, too much about their subjects.
And that is what Sarah Polley, the Canadian actress and now writer-director, whose documentary Stories We Tell
is ostensibly the focus or subject here, has done; she has spun the
most amazing and haunting of stories about (and with the assistance of)
her family and a secret that had remained unspoken for so long among
them. It seems Polley’s mother Diane, an actress and later a casting
director in Toronto, married Michael Polley, an actor and writer, had
three children – Sarah being the third – but this bright and passionate
woman found herself seeking a love that matched her own. Failing to do
so within her marriage, she stumbled headlong into an affair, while
working on a play in Montreal, which produced Sarah.
Diane and Michael resumed marriage life after the end of the show and
raised Sarah together until Diane’s early death in the late 1980s.
Sarah was approximately 11 years old and left to grow up in the loving
comfort of Michael Polley, but thanks to a series of family jokes about
her parentage, Sarah, began a quest to discover the truth about her
father. Stories We Tell, built on the framework of frank
interviews with her siblings and Michael, along with extended family,
friends, and fellow artists from those early days, captures her telling
of this story of the surprising revelation and its impact on everyone
What is the story, her story, but a collection of memories,
fragmented perspectives on the truth? It is a thing of intriguing beauty
to watch unfold, raw and honest, but always, in every moment, calling
into question, the notion, the very idea of truth. What is the truth?
No one lies; they tell what they can, from their point of view, but
the truth, as we find out, is not something that one person can know,
not without being privy to all other points of view. And when we tell
our own stories, we are never as truthful as we might hope or desire.
But what Sarah has done is wrestle with the impossible. Her aim was
to corral as many angles as possible, to tell the truth – the whole
truth and nothing but. Although for all her effort, Stories We Tell falls short, in two ways.
We discover, along with Sarah, who her biological father is beyond a
shadow of a doubt (thanks to DNA testing), and she works in not only his
perspective but also that of his daughter from another relationship –
another half-sister for Sarah who already has half siblings (a brother
and sister) from Diane’s marriage prior to her union with Michael as
well as another half-brother & sister set from Michael. It is all
rather confusing to document here, but the film grants each one of them
their own time to speak and breath as more than mere characters before
But we never hear from Diane. She is the hole at the center of
things, the voiceless presence that looms large, so large that the film
nearly tricks us into believing that we have heard from her. We want to
and our desire is so strong that we, along with Sarah maybe, convince
ourselves that we have her from her. There are so many images – photos
and video – of Diane that dance before us and tease us with thousands of
And in the same way, it could be argued that we never get Sarah’s
real story either. Her meticulous focus on gathering so much from so
many allows her to disappear. I don’t believe that was her intention,
but still, it is the result.
How do we tell our own stories?
I have returned, again and again, to a quote from Roger Ebert’s memoir Life, Itself,
which I picked up about six months ago and read before his death.
Speaking of advice he received once he took on the assignment of
covering film, by way of Esquire critic Dwight McDonald and Pauline
Kael: “I go into the movie, I watch it, and I ask myself what happened
What happened to me, while watching Stories We Tell?
I found it difficult to separate from the story, which for me, was a
focus on fathers and fatherhood. Like Sarah Polley, I grew up without
knowing my biological father. That’s not quite true. Unlike Sarah, I
knew who he was, but he wasn’t involved in my life and there were
periods when I considered seeking him out. There have always been people
close to me who knew where he was and would have assisted me in the
search, but I always found reasons to back away from the quest.
At one point, I hatched a plan. I started a novel about the
experience of finding him. My fictional telling was rooted in the idea
of creating him from the snippets of anecdotes and traits I had been
told over the years. Once the book was completed, I would track him down
and compare notes, see how close I had come to realizing him on the
page. I got about 13 chapters and pages and pages of notes into the
project, but set it aside. That was almost 20 years ago and for the life
of me, I’m not sure what put me off that time.
Two years ago, I finally accomplished the mission, driving down to
North Carolina for a meeting, which lasted all of 30 minutes. He told
his story, as best he could, in a breathless rush that led me to believe
that he realized this would be our only meeting face-to-face. I sat and
listened. I stared into his face. And now, as I sit here relaying the
story, there’s not much to tell. I don’t remember much of what he looked
like. I can’t say that I found myself in any of his features. I do
remember him saying that God brought me to him. He said it several
times, but the truth, my truth at least, is that God had nothing to do
with it. I came, I saw, and I returned to the only story that mattered.This story was originally published on tt stern-enzi's blog, here.
0 Comments · Tuesday, July 10, 2012
Take This Waltz focuses on Margot (Michelle Williams), a freelance writer
married to a cookbook author (Seth Rogen) but who develops feelings for
a neighbor (Luke Kirby), an artist and rickshaw driver. Waltz feels like an avant-garde
performance devoted to women on the verge. What happens to women who long for
more than life has given them but then encounter an
opportunity to grab hold of something more?
Sci-fi thriller presents scientific moral dilemma but doesn't deliver
0 Comments · Friday, June 4, 2010
What starts out as a promising sci-fi thriller about romantically linked biochemists (Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley) loses steam in an underwhelming third-act climax evidently affected by budgetary limits. There's a dash of 'Rosemary's Baby' in a film that wants to present more of a horrifying scientific moral dilemma than it's able to deliver. Grade: C-plus.