With Away From Her and Take This Waltz, actress-turned-filmmaker Polley has proved herself as an unusually gifted director, but this inventive, moving documentary reveals even more artistic ambition. Not only is it a riveting exploration of her own family history, but it's also a pungent comment on the nature of storytelling itself. By the end, we wonder if it's ever possible to get to the truth of a past event. And we don't really mind that it probably isn't.
"When you are in the middle of a story it isn't a story at all." From this Margaret Atwood quote, Polley sets out to understand a key fact about her late actress mother Diane Polley. She encourages everyone to tell their side of the story: her father Michael (who also attempts to objectively narrate the film), brothers Mark and John, sisters Joanna and Suzy, and a variety of her mother's friends and colleagues. All of this centres on a major revelation that redefined the family. But of course everyone sees themselves as the protagonist, even though it's actually Diane's story. And while Sarah tries not to make it all about her, she can't really help it.
By taking such a playful approach, Polley packs the film with inventive layers, allowing us to peer around the corners of the documentary itself, breaking the fourth wall in the to-camera interviews and even in the re-created home movies. We're never quite sure if what we're seeing is truly archival material, or if it's all been re-made for this movie. And that's the whole point: if we can't find the real version of any event, is that truth only created within us as we understand its relevance in our own life?
Continue reading: Stories We Tell Review
The BBC drama starring Aidan Turner returns to BBC One on September 4th.