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Links to Sarah Polley's previous films Away from Her (2006) and Take This Waltz (2011). We don't appear to have a thread on All I Want for Christmas (2002).

This film played in Canada last year but is apparently only just making its way to the States now. (Alas, I missed it myself.) It has some pretty big fans on this side of the border, but it was also the subject of some debate among the Vancouver Film Critics Circle, which ended up giving the Canadian film of the year award *and* the Canadian documentary of the year award to other films.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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  • 2 months later...

A 4-star Ann Hornaday rave greets this film's opening in D.C. today.

With its ingenious structure, seamless visual conceits and mordant humor, “Stories We Tell” is a masterful film on technical and aesthetic values alone. But because of the wisdom and compassion of its maker, it rises to another level entirely. Its finest, most shattering moment isn’t a grand revelation, pivotal encounter or sly piece of visual legerdemain. Rather, it’s an achingly simple, wordless tableau, as the people who loved Diane reflect on the woman who has passed but will never be consigned entirely to the past.

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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Now available for online download.

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Can't you rent it straight from the NFB site?

I'm going to download it soon. I didn't make it downtown when it was here in the theatres and I've heard that its a good film.

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Win a copy. Although I'm pretty sure this is only through the Canadian ITunes. Edited by Attica
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Win a copy. Although I'm pretty sure this is only through the Canadian ITunes.

:) I'm going to borrow a friend's computer, I think. My computer is not very good with videos, or iTunes. My iPad is what I use and I don't think the non-iTunes rental file would be compatible w/ the iPad. Either way, borrowing a friend's computer for the rental should solve the problem.

Rather relieved to not have to pay theater prices either way.

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I downloaded a copy last night. Hopefully can watch it tonight.

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Brilliant. I need to read some negative reviews, just for perspective. I'd like to think I'm open to being persuaded it's less than a great film, but I'd rather revel in it for a bit before getting slapped down by some naysayer.

Here's a movie that taps one's reservoir of compassion even while it underlines, rather than undermines, traditional moral tenets and beliefs. (I do not think this was Polley's intention, but that's how the movie played for me.) Learning about the devastation wrought by a mother's decisions upon her children, even as her children reflect on the wreckage and show they've moved past it, not without scars, is unsettling but affecting.

It's Polley's approach to the historical footage she's assembled for the film that makes Stories We Tell memorable. The closing credits illuminate the directorial choices that become apparent as the film unspools, with the final precredits moments punctuated with a great kicker from one of the on-camera participants.

I was going to applaud when the credits came up, but there's a pause where the screen goes black that left me uncertain whether the film had ended. By the time it became clear that it had, the impulse to applaud had passed. I regret that, so consider this post my own form of applause for an outstanding film.

Edited by Christian

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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Wow. just looked at Metacritic. 93 overall. 11 of 28 ratings were 100.

This is just masterful. It is at once a personal story (very personal) and a deconstruction of truth and especially documentary filmmaking. It surprises with honesty--not just with the intimate story being told but with the storytelling itself.

A foreign movie can't be stupid.

-from the film
Armin

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Darrel: I'm so glad to see your similarly strong response to this film, but I was hoping you'd engage this part of my earlier post, if only to question or counter it:

Here's a movie that taps one's reservoir of compassion even while it underlines, rather than undermines, traditional moral tenets and beliefs. (I do not think this was Polley's intention, but that's how the movie played for me.) Learning about the devastation wrought by a mother's decisions upon her children, even as her children reflect on the wreckage and show they've moved past it, not without scars, is unsettling but affecting.

Do you think that's a fair assessment? I don't think you have the same culturally conservative views I have, so I suspect you may have a different take on the film.

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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  • 3 weeks later...

Okay, am I crazy, or are most reviewers missing what I find to be the most impressive aspect of this film...

... the fact that the "home movies" and "archival footage" are frequently nothing of the sort, but rather fake home movies starring a cast of actors who are playing the younger versions of her family members, family friends, and Harry?

I began suspecting that was the case early on, when I quit believing that Polley could have so much actual footage of perfectly relevant moments of her family members. I also thought I recognized the woman who was supposed to be her mother, and it turns out I did recognize her. That's actress Rebecca Jenkins. Near the end, I heard people whispering about how Sarah's mother looked suspiciously different in some of the scenes. Then the credits started rolling, and I heard people express amazement as the first thing that rolled past was a list of actors and the characters they'd played.

I went right to Dargis's review in the NYT and, sure enough, no mention whatsoever about actors or period-piece recreations.

What's going on? Are some critics treating that like a big surprise and so avoiding mentioning it altogether? Or did they really miss the fact that this is a lot like The Arbor, in which real people tell their stories while we watched staged scenes with actors representing what "really happened"?

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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The first three paragraphs from The Georgia Straight's profile of the director in October 2012:

Every family has its sustaining myths, although those that Sarah Polley grew up with were shakier than many. The need to resolve the stickier bits—especially regarding her previously unsure paternity—drove her to make
Stories We Tell
, a dazzling documentary full of unexpected twists and turns.

It took the former child actor (with more than 20 credits before
Road to Avonlea
) and recent director (
Away From Her, Take This Waltz
) five years to make the film, which opens here Friday (October 19). The process included interviewing family members and friends, collecting archival material, and, eventually, filming new material to match home movies from the 1970s. Much of this features Vancouver actor Rebecca Jenkins, who bears a striking resemblance to Polley’s mother, Diane, an excitingly erratic personality who died of cancer in 1990.

“Rebecca is an astonishing actress,” the director declares on the phone from her Toronto home. “She does such an amazing job that a lot of people don’t realize, until the very end of the film, that those scenes are re-creations. It’s a strange thing when an actor is so good you want to hide the fact that she’s in your movie. I definitely wanted people to wonder which parts were real, so it becomes something I avoid talking about. Sorry, Rebecca!”

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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James Bowman is less than impressed: (WARNING: REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS)

http://www.jamesbowm....asp?pubID=2280

As the film is so far philosophical, however, I wish it had also had something to tell us about the "We" in the title. In one sense the "We" is Sarah’s family, since it is a family story she has to tell, and one that she has only learned, apparently, in adulthood. Insofar as it a story about her parentage, it is one of intense interest inside the family, which consists of four siblings, by two different fathers, plus the father of two of them, whom Sarah grew up thinking was her father as well, and two possible alternatives as her biological father. But of course if the "We" was limited to family members, there would be no movie, nor any reason for a movie. The "We" must therefore be assumed to be generalized, and Miss Polley’s family history to be taken as somehow paradigmatic for lots of other families — not to mention, since families aren’t mentioned in the title, even those without families or any family stories to tell.

This is disingenuous. A story like this one is inseparable from its family context and depends on that context for its meaning. The story is a family secret which she is revealing to the world, so that it is not only a story of Sarah Polley’s search for the truth of who her biological father is but also a story of Sarah Polley’s revealing a family secret to the world at large. The film pretends that it is all about the first story and that there is really no story to speak of at all in connection with the second. The whole family as presented to us on camera registers the appropriate reaction to the news Sarah has uncovered, as none of them knew about it before either, but though the movie bumps up against the question of the family’s reaction to Sarah’s going public with it, this never seems to amount to much. They are all obliging her by speaking to her camera about it, after all, aren’t they?

Edited by Benchwarmer
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James Bowman:

: . . . though the movie bumps up against the question of the family’s reaction to Sarah’s going public with it, this never seems to amount to much. They are all obliging her by speaking to her camera about it, after all, aren’t they?

It sounds like a number of people in the media already knew about the Polley family secret, but were persuaded by Sarah to keep quiet until she had had the chance to reveal the secret herself. Polley wrote about this in a blog post at the NFB website just before the film premiered last summer, and one of the journalists who knew her secret -- Brian D. Johnson of Maclean's magazine -- wrote about it here after she went public with it.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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I'm surprised to see those reviews that give away a crucial detail in how Polley tells her story. To riff on Ebert, the movie isn't just about the "what" of Stories We Tell, but the "how" as well. And it's not just about the teller, but about the hearers -- how we receive such stories. It's both playful and somber -- a highly unusual combination that gives the film much of its power.

This "story" isn't a jigsaw puzzle -- something for which its critics have dinged it. The puzzle, or mystery, is part of it, of course, just not the be all, end all. It's about how Polley processed the revelation, and how she decided to reveal it. It's about how her siblings came to the same knowledge and let Polley come to an understanding of it. It's about how the mother's actions affected the siblings, not only Polley, and about the "stories" they told themselves to process who their mother was.

Having gone to bat for the film on those levels, I confess that it will be interesting to watch the film again and see how it plays now that I know its secrets.

Someone on Facebook -- might have been Jeffrey -- was posting about how 2013 has turned into a great year at the movies. After seeing this movie a month ago and Frances Ha last night, I'm inclined to agree. It had been kind of dry -- yes, I put together a "Best of Year So Far" list a couple of weeks ago, but I figured several of those titles, enjoyable though they were, didn't have much of a shot at being on my list come year's end. But this movie, and France Ha? I'm almost certain they'll be on the list.

I love that I'm seeing these great movies at least a few weeks after they've been released, been heralded, had a bit of a backlash/comedown from those who didn't find that all that compelling, and then, a bit into their theatrical run, being blown away by them.

Edited by Christian

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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James Bowman is less than impressed: (WARNING: REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS)

http://www.jamesbowm....asp?pubID=2280

This is disingenuous. A story like this one is inseparable from its family context and depends on that context for its meaning. The story is a family secret which she is revealing to the world, so that it is not only a story of Sarah Polley’s search for the truth of who her biological father is but also a story of Sarah Polley’s revealing a family secret to the world at large.

Did he watch the movie? It's a major "plot point" in the movie that a reporter is about to tell the whole story anyway, and not only that, but another major player is preparing to publish a memoir that tell his side of the story. It was going to be public in more than one way. And more power to Polley for doing it the way she did, which is to say that while there is a story to be told, it really comes down to which story you choose to assemble from aspects proven, guessed, and fabricated.

Edited by Overstreet

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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Surely this would have been a hard and emotional story for Sarah to make in many ways. I can only imagine that filming actors to re-create her dead mother's life and personality in regards to this would have been very emotional. Not to mention that this stuff was incredibly convincing. I have to give kudo's to Polley on this. It proves her to be a brave, personable, and very talented filmmaker.

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I pretty much decided to skip reading this thread when I began to see major spoiler alerts. But I'm excited to say that this is coming to our local art house theater next week, and I'm really looking forward to it!

"What is inside is also outside." -Goethe via Merleau-Ponty, in conclusion to the latter's one extended rumination on film
Filmwell, Twitter, & Letterboxd

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  • 2 months later...

Easily one of the best and most important films of 2013.  Polley's film is not self-absorbed...it is prophetic.  I haven't been able to get her thesis out of my head.  Our desperate need to make sense of our lives through stories...stories that we share with other people...who feel the same need...but share a slightly different story.  There is value in the combining of the stories...and a humbling that comes with the realization that my own story that I tell is subjective in nature.  

 

My take on Stories We Tell on Letterboxd

Edited by MatthewBradham
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  • 1 month later...

Bumping with the beginning of the piece:

 

Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell begins with a quote from Margaret Atwood’s novel, Alias Grace, in which the writer suggests that our lives only come into clearer focus in the future, once we’ve stopped to interpret the past and create a narrative framework for our memories. Polley’s documentary is about this quest. More specifically, she wants to reconstruct the story of her own conception, a story cloaked in secrecy and involving the identity of Polley’s biological father.

 

But Polley doesn’t make her search immediately clear; instead, she creates a narrative at times linear, at times roundabout, presenting her search through interviews with the involved parties, primarily family members. What she finds is that her mother, Dianne, who died of cancer when Polley was 11, had a long-secret affair with a movie producer named Harry--an action that continues to have far-reaching effects on the entire family.

 

Looking at Polley’s film this way also allows us to consider how Stories We Tell is about memoirs generally. Many documentaries exhibit some of the characteristics of “creative nonfiction”--memory, point of view, psychoanalyzing, tape recording, interviewing, fact checking and  research--but the way Stories We Tell announces them gives us special insight into Polley’s storehouse of memory;  we’re invited to reconstruct the story with her, as she allows the involved parties to piece together the details. The film is especially compelling as a cinematic rendering of retrospection: we get to see pained, humored, longing faces and bodies in the process of searching for answers, recalling images--shown to us as 8mm recreations--that threaten to be lost without the creative reconstruction of memoir. What makes the film a joy, as well, is its rendering of the fact that we are rarely more animated--more spirited--than when we are conjuring the past in conversation.

 

With this in mind, I think an interesting direction for our discussion is the interpretation of the past through the lens of recent discovery--to discover, in other words, how Stories We Tell sheds light on the creative vision behind Polley’s first two features, Away From Her and Take This Waltz.

 

By the way, my conversation is with Amanda Meyncke of film.com. Here's her film.com review of STORIES WE TELL.

"What is inside is also outside." -Goethe via Merleau-Ponty, in conclusion to the latter's one extended rumination on film
Filmwell, Twitter, & Letterboxd

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