Stories We Tell

I look at Sarah Polley, the Canadian actor and film director, and wonder where did she get her beauty.
She doesn’t look at all like her father.

You look at her brothers and sisters, none of whom look like their father, yet they have the same features, the attractiveness, and all look alike. Finally, I see a photo of their mother, Diane, and at once, I know.

This is what you see in Polley’s new film, Stories We Tell. She is both director and central figure in this part documentary, part mystery. Because I have read a little about the film I know the mystery: Who is Sarah’s father?

Is it Harry the father she lived with ever since she was born? She never gave the question a thought, until her brothers and sisters began teasing Sarah that she didn’t much look like her father.

Gradually, Sarah, the interrogator, leads us to hear the stories that each of her mother’s friends recall about their relationship with Diane. We learn that Diane did some acting and for a brief period moved from her home in Toronto to Montreal where she had a bit part. While there she had several encounters with men and by the time she returned home, she was pregnant again.

We meet each of the individuals who knew her in Montreal, as well as what her brothers and sisters remembers about those days. Each recalls a something a little bit different, their memories are not entirely clear. Perhaps they make up the gaps with and there.

In time we learn who the father was or who claims to be. Sarah meets him, they become close friends and it seems the story is over. But it isn’t. Polley ends the film with a brief exchange with another actor in the Montreal play, a younger man. He admits he slept with Diane once. The film ends.

Is there a truth to be found in these stories and, if so, who is telling it? Whose memory is most reliable or can we count on any of them? Polley and one of the Montreal lovers have a DNA test. The results are clear. The ending isn’t.