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Sarah Polley gets down to family business in Stories We Tell

by Mark Burger

Acclaimed actress and filmmaker Sarah Polley turns her cameras inward — and outward — in Stories We Tell (***), an absorbing exploration of an typical (or so it seems) Canadian family that just happens to be her own.

As the title implies, stories are at the core of her family experience — how those stories were told, by whom, and what aspects of those stories were expressed and how they were interpreted. What first seems a light and affectionate biography of her family inexorably becomes a deeper, more penetrating exploration of Sarah Polley’s own past, the details of which are fascinating.

That Polley herself lived the experience and has now filmed it — in a variation of the standard documentary format — offers a unique insight, one that she shares with no small trepidation and with often-unflinching honesty. There are some powerfully emotional and ironic moments displayed and conveyed here, as well as some intensely private ones.

Polley’s interviews with friends and family members are interspersed with filmed segments (not unlike old home movies), some of which feature actors playing (or telling stories as) the same friends and family members whom she has interviewed. Yet it’s all been cleanly and clearly assembled by Polley. In the end, Stories We Tell is a deeply personal tribute from its maker to those who created her.

Stories We Tell is scheduled to open Friday at A/perture Cinemas in Winston-Salem.

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