Saturday, August 3, 2013

Stories We Tell (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Stories We Tell

Actress Sarah Polley (director of Take This Waltz) has a haunting aura reminiscent of a young Sissy Spacek with her fox-like eyes, translucent skin and thick reddish hair. In "Stories We Tell" she investigates the maze of her own family with the intensity of a Jungian analysis. The film is as entertaining as it is heartfelt and quirky, chock full with many askew personalities.

The documentary, which is a pastiche of recreated home movies (so masterfully done that they fooled me) and jarring interviews of Polley's family, starts with a jest, specifically the question of Polley's birth. The family repeatedly joked "Sarah, you don't look like your father." The jabs, humorous at first, were  heard with such frequency that Polley began to take them to heart. In an interview, Polley's brother admits that he heard mom on the phone to someone admit that she was pregnant.

The mystery begins.

Polley's mom Diane is energetic and vivacious. She is a pixieish aspiring actress who bears a resemblance to Sandy Duncan. Everyone that went into her orbit said she was "the life of the party" In fictionalized home movies, portrayed by Rebecca Jenkins, Diane is a fire-fly never still or silent. In a theatrical production, she became smitten with a impulsive-acting guy by the name of Michael Polley who had the stage quality of a brash Robert Mitchum. Diane and Michael quickly married. But at home, under matrimonial weights, Michael grew cold and reserved, leaving behind his creative pursuits and sitting on the couch like a sterile tea-kettle.

On impulse, Diane gets an acting gig in Montreal. As told, Michael is secretly happy as he covets his solitude.

Sarah Polley's relatives swear that she has a distinct resemblance to actor Geoff Bowes, an amiable self-deprecating man who is quite surprised by the suggestion.

The star of the show, though, is the furry personage of the film producer  Harry Gulkin with his wild Afro of snowy hair combined with his offhand manner, part romanticism, part existentialism. Gulkin loved Diane Polley more than life. He emerges as an Einsteinian Romeo.

Although Harry is the most colorful character, a good deal of pathos resides in husband Michael Polley who undergoes many changes during the film as does his rival. Under Diane's charge, the two men come to life as great libertines, but without her they are unkempt shadows, befuddled, abstract and without purpose.

Michael Polley is a chameleon in the film switching from a charismatic soldier onstage to a solitary gnome on the sofa bereft of Diane, only to rise once again as a glib sophisticate as he tells his story into Sarah Polley's microphone with all the varnish of a music hall production.

"Stories We Tell" is at times hard to watch with its questions of family loyalty, last moments and death. You will wonder who comes away with more : Diane, Harry or Michael? Or is Sarah Polley herself the main instigator in this personal drama, by making this revealing documentary?

No matter how you process this puzzle of personalities, some frenetic with warmth and heart, but all of them engaging, Sarah Polley is to be applauded for her courage in opening a universal, yet subtle cloak and dagger cupboard that lies within the heart of a Suburban family.

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