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STORIES WE TELL (director/writer: Sarah Polley; cinematographer: Iris Ng; editor: Michael Munn; music: Jonathan Goldsmith; cast: John Buchan, Susy Buchan, Harry Gulkin, Joanna Polley, Mark Polley, Geoff Bowes, Michael Polley); Runtime: 108; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producer: Anita Lee; Roadside Attractions; 2012-Canada)
Fascinating personal documentary.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Canadian actress-filmmaker Sarah Polley(“Take This Waltz“/”Away From Her”/”All I Want for Christmas”) directs this fascinating personal documentary about her own Toronto family and its revealing family secret. Sarah’s British-born father Michael, an actor, writer and insurance executive, narrates the film, that includes family friends and Sarah’s brothers, John and Mark, and her sisters, Susy and Joanna, to talk in a homey setting about their vibrant actress mom Diane (viewed on home-movies). Diane died in 1990 of cancer when Sarah, the youngest of the five children, was 11. The focus of the film is drawn to the question of who is Sarah’s biological father, as she investigates as a teenager the rumor that mom had an affair in 1978 when she was on stage in Montreal for two months in the play titled “Toronto” and left her two children with Michael in Toronto. A DNA test in 2007, at last, gives Sarah the certainty of knowing who is her biological dad. The film’s point is that memories can’t be completely trusted when we tell stories about our lives and how our narratives have a tremendous influence in how we live our lives.

The intelligent candid family film has a profundity about dealing with life’s intimacies, a winsome acerbic sense of humor, is deeply moving and it paints a poignant picture of the human condition. The filmmaker navigates a bumpy course over family matters but films with care for others while searching for the truth in the difficult stories that unfold and offers a sensitivity for telling one’s story in a way not to hurt others no matter the shocks or unexpected that might pop up. Another filmmaker might not have been as delicate and compassionate in telling such a story and thereby not have reached such splendid heights.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”