Sunday, June 2, 2013

Stories We Tell

Well, this is something different. OK, wait, actually, it's very much mundane. And yet. Also very different. It's like this:

If I said to you "This is a documentary about a woman who had an affair, and then got pregnant, and her husband raised the child without knowing till after she died," you might rightly say that this is an everyday tale. A tale old when Chaucer told it seven-hundred years ago.

What if I said, though, that it was the child who had made the documentary, and this is not just the story of old love affairs, but more the long journey of how those affairs affect living people, how they discover the truth, indeed even if they discover the truth—much less us, the viewer, watching a documentary on the topic.

The documentarian is Sarah Polley, a nearly aborted child (you can imagine the relevance) who has gone on to act and direct, and who at one point describes the internal process that lead from the discovery to filming of the people and events involved. At the same time, she's far from the center of the film. (You could even argue she's hiding, or hasn't quite confronted her feelings.)

The film is framed, nearly narrated, even, by the man who raised her, Michael Polley. Her mother, Dianne died in 1990, when Sarah was 11. Her siblings are older, and so Michael and Sarah became close in the years following Dianne's death. But the family joke, weirdly enough, was the question of Sarah's paternity (ostensibly because she doesn't look like Michael).

This "joke" leads her on a journey. And I'm not going to say too much about it, because the journey is the point. And what Polley does is present you a picture of her mother, then another picture, then another picture. and while from many different angles the facts remain unshakable, Polley is constantly throwing more into the mix; she's daring you to think you can really understand her mother.

There's even a stinger, though I called it early on and The Boy also saw it coming.

Just as an example, Polley's real father thinks the whole story should be about him and Dianne, and since Dianne is dead, basically about him. He thinks his story is the important one, the only true one. But the truth is, he's the least important aspect of the story. Even Dianne herself is less important than the impact of her actions, on this child she had, and the children she'd had before.

By the way, Michael and Dianne's relationship is classic: They're both actors and Dianne falls in love with Michael when he's playing a tough guy alpha role. They end up acting together and again Michael has an alpha role, sealing the deal with Dianne.

In real life, Michael's an introverted beta, and Dianne is incredibly frustrated by his lack of ambition. His unwillingness, she reportedly says, to use his amazing talents as a writer (in particular). For his part, he seems happy enough to let her believe what she wants to land her in the first place.

How could this not end up the way it did? In that sense, each of the reveals is more or less predictable. Overall, though, this is a captivating presentation. The Boy and the Flower did not fidget during the nearly two hour runtime.

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