04/13/2013 06:33 pm ET | Updated Jun 13, 2013

Popcorn Preview: Stories We Tell

Film: Stories We Tell (2012)
Writer/Director: Sarah Polley (Take This Waltz)
Genre: Documentary (108 minutes)

"When you're in the middle of a story, it isn't a story at all." --Margaret Atwood
"I hope you'll explain what you're trying to do," one of them asks. "It's an interrogation process," says Sarah. "I'm sweating," her sister says. Sarah's dad, Michael, is the only one who gets the full recording studio treatment. He's written his version out and he's now recording it for Sarah's movie. Sarah wants everyone to start from the beginning and tell it as they remember it... starting with their memories of Diane, Sarah's mother. "Infectious... fun... warm... energetic... laughed loud... loved to sing (wasn't a good singer)... great sense of joy..." Michael tells us that Diane came to see a play he was appearing in and fell in love with his character. One thing led to another... they got married, Michael bought a Super 8 movie camera, and they had two children, among other things. Michael fears he never could be the person Diane fell in love with. Unlike Diane, he was always calm and self-contained. When the children came along, he gave up acting and writing to become a better provider... Diane always thought he gave up too quickly. He wonders if she needed someone he'd never be.

1n 1978, Diane was offered a part in a play in Montreal. Michael was delighted. "I knew we had gone stale." But somehow, the weeks apart ignited a new spark, and a short time later, Diane discovered she was pregnant again. That's when Sarah came on the scene... and it turned out to be a new beginning. But Sarah never had a chance to really know her mom because Diane died a few years later. Over the years, it seemed an inescapable observation that Sarah didn't look like the other children. It became a bit of dinner table humor speculating about Sarah's pedigree. "Diane had such a large personality that you never looked for secrets," says a friends. "As it turned out, her secrets were just artfully hidden." Sarah's sister told her about the time their mom spent in Montreal, and Sarah eventually started searching for the truth. When she found it, she wasn't planning to share it with her dad. But "truths beget other truths." It turned out she had no choice. His reaction wasn't at all what she would have expected. For starters, it inspired him to start writing again.

One of the truths we soon discover is that Diane was right about Michael's talents. While the story is told from many viewpoints, it's Michael's written story that becomes the spine of the narrative. It's wonderfully observed and written. As events unfold, we see that everyone remembers things slightly differently. One is tempted to say the truth lies somewhere in between, but Sarah seems to be telling us that many truths exist simultaneously, and there's no single truth. She uses her dad's old 8mm film as a starting point. In places she has filled in with new film, but it's so artfully done that it's almost seamless. In trying to give each person space to tell his or her own story, she possibly lets the film go on a bit too long. On the other hand, by letting people talk too long, they sometimes go in unexpected directions. Don't be surprised if the movie gets you thinking about events in your own family that never quite made total sense. "Truths beget other truths."

3 popped kernels (Scale: 0-4)
Filmmaker Sarah Polley explores some of her own family history... asking relatives and friends to tell it as they remember it

Popcorn Profile
Rated: PG-13
Audience: Grown-ups
Distribution: Art house
Mood: Neutral
Tempo: In no hurry
Visual Style: Amateur video
Character Development: Engaging
Language: True to life
Social Significance: Thought provoking

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You may want to read about another Sarah Polley film:

Take This Waltz

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