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Film review: Stories We Tell - a parental documentary from Sarah Polley


The Canadian actor Sarah Polley has made a patchwork documentary about her parents that is deeply affectionate and sometimes very moving, though her insistence on its multi-voiced complexity (and which many critics have rolled over for) seems to me unwarranted.

At its centre is a portrait of her mother, Diane, an actress and casting director who was the life and linchpin of the family. She had tragedy in her bones – on the collapse of her first marriage she lost custody of her children – and her second marriage to Michael Polley, a British actor, was also problematic.

It transpires that Diane, while in Montreal to do a play, had an affair with a producer named Harry Gulkin. Following years of rumour and endless family footage on Super 8, we learn that Harry is Sarah's father.

But here's where the big claims for the film founder. The Polley siblings agree that it was an open secret, and the "stories" they tell pretty much correspond with one another: all the palaver about ambiguity and perspective is window-dressing.

It distracts, only slightly, from the heart of the matter, which was Diane Polley's love of her children and her crushingly premature death from cancer, aged 54.