‘Stories We Tell’ reveals family secrets

By Claire Lee

‘Take This Waltz’ director’s personal documentary arrives in Korean theaters

  • Published : Mar 6, 2014 - 20:25
  • Updated : Mar 6, 2014 - 20:25
Canadian filmmaker Sarah Polley is mostly known in Korea for her 2011 drama “Take This Waltz,” a tale about a freelance writer who becomes bored of her stable marriage and falls for an artist who lives across the street.

The emotional struggle of Margot, the protagonist of “Take This Waltz,” may make more sense after watching Polley’s personal documentary “Stories We Tell,” which deals with her late mother’s extramarital affairs.

The documentary premiered in 2012 at the Venice International Film Festival, and then screened at the Toronto International Film Festival the same year. The film is deeply personal. Polley learned in 2007, at age 28, that her father was not her biological father and that she was in fact born from an extramarital affair. Her mother, actress Diane Polley, died of cancer shortly before Sarah’s 11th birthday.

The film consists of interviews with Polley’s siblings from her mother’s two marriages, as well as Michael Polley, the man who raised her, and her biological father Harry Gulkin. She also interviews Diane’s friends and other relatives, who all seem to have different perceptions of what Diane was like when she was alive. 
Sarah Polley in her personal documentary “Stories We Tell.” (Film JoseE)

Diane’s first marriage was disastrous. She was the first woman in Canada to lose custody of her children after her husband charged her with adultery. The case made front-page news in 1960s Toronto. In the film, Polley’s siblings, Susy and John, speak about how difficult it was for them to be separated from Diane as well as the physical abuse they had to endure from their stepmother.

Viewers also learn that Michael wasn’t always an affectionate husband, although his love for his late wife is obvious throughout the film. Diane never told Michael about her affair with Harry, a Montreal-based film producer, and that he is in fact Sarah’s biological father. She took the secret to the grave.

Polley delicately uses a blend of real home movies and Super-8 footage that looks like home video but is cast with actors. It is hard to tell which home videos are real and which are staged. In Polley’s faux home videos, Canadian actress Rebecca Jenkins plays Diane, who seems elusive, talented and almost mysterious.

“Stories We Tell” is an intelligent and poignant account of loss, identity and the power of truth ― and how it literally changes who we are once unraveled. Throughout the film, Polley doesn’t forget to focus on what people choose not to tell, including her mother’s shocking secrets. Her biological father, Harry, never tried to contact Sarah until she first reached him at age 28 ― although he knew she existed and he was her real father. For Polley, it seems, the reasons behind such silence are more fascinating and complex than the ones that have been already told. She fills the silence with her version of truth, which comprises voices of others ― her mother, her two fathers, her siblings and her mother’s friends.

“Stories We Tell” opens in Korean theaters on March 13. The film was featured in last year’s DMZ Docs in Korea.

By Claire Lee (dyc@heraldcorp.com)