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'Stories We Tell' review: A documentary on the variances of truth and memory

Director Sarah Polley poses for a portrait promoting "Stories We Tell" at Sundance.
Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images

Stories We Tell


A unique kind of documentary of personal experience that defines the human experience, “Stories We Tell” is a film that received much critical praise but little attention from audiences. Much more than the director’s personal journey for truth, “Stories We Tell” is a study of truth itself, of memory’s follies and the lies, both to the self and others, that influence the truth. Directed by Oscar-nominated Sarah Polley (“Away From Her”), “Stories We Tell” begins as an investigation into the real story of Polley’s mother, who died when Sarah was young, and her love life but becomes an exploration of people and storytelling.

Getting to know the character of her mother, Diane, Sarah Polley interviews family and close friends in a quest to find out more. Jokes of Sarah’s unique physical features compared with her siblings’ expose the truth of Sarah’s mother’s infidelity, but those interviewed offer varied and conflicting tales. Though Sarah discovers the truth of her real father, she realizes the fragility of memory and how it influences truth. The vast majority of people involved appear to tell the truth (only one person clearly hides information), exposing long held secrets, so why do their versions, their stories, conflict? “Stories We Tell” illustrates the remarkable variances of truth as each person interprets their own version of it.

Through a series of reenactments along with home videos, Sarah’s documentary fluidly narrates an image of her mother. And it shows how one person can have many different identities based on those around them. These different perspectives both shape the woman Sarah hardly knew yet depict a woman no one really knew. From her siblings and half-siblings to friends, spouses, and lovers, Diane was clearly well loved but becomes more ethereal as no one’s description can contain her.

Polley’s award-winning, mysterious memoir should not be missed and is available on Netflix instant and Amazon Prime.

Rating for “Stories We Tell:” A

For more information on this film or to view its trailer, click here.

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