In this documentary, which opens and closes with the filmmaker’s father Michael narrating a monologue he authored, Canadian director Sarah Polley sets out to find “truths” about her deceased mother Diane Polley through interviews of family, friends and friends of friends. Through the numerous and contradictory tales, both the viewer and the filmmaker discover that stories and their veracity depend on who is telling them. This principle is embodied in reenactments, filmed with a Super 8 camera, which seem to be archival footage.
However, Polley doesn’t tell viewers they are watching dramatizations until the film’s credit sequence. Her choice to leave dramatizations of events unidentified transforms the film into something more than a documentary through the knowledge that the people onscreen are actors in costumes recorded with a Super 8 camera, rather than the subject from the past we see and hear about. The viewer’s ability (or lack thereof) to distinguish reality from fiction within the film makes for a one-of-a-kind viewing experience. This ambiguity brings so much life to this film about life.
One could argue how accurate it is to label this film a documentary. The film recognizes that truth is elusive and there are fictional elements within the stories we tell ourselves and others, especially when the protagonist of the tale cannot speak for themselves. Michael tells us his story, Diane’s and Sarah’s story. Everyone else has an opportunity to describe the events in question, except Diane herself.
With this deeply personal and intimate work, Sarah Polley seeks answers that, in the end, she may or may not have received, depending on whose story she (or the viewer) chooses to believe. By sharing these stories with us, she plants in viewers the desire to question the stories we have been told and the ones we tell, and to wonder what stories are being told about us. Indubitably, viewing this documentary is a profound and unforgettable experience that everyone should partake in.
Gabriela Ramos Tavárez (she/her) is an Afro-Boricua award-winning writer, editor and aspiring culture critic. A senior at the Faculty of Humanities of the University of Puerto Rico – Río Piedras Campus, she’s double majoring in Film and Audiovisual Studies, and English. Within her academic, dramatic, journalistic, and fiction works, she aims to explore alternative representations of race, ethnicity, gender, sex, and sexuality; comedy as a medium of political expression; revisionist historical fiction and speculative fiction.