Sarah Polley’s engrossing documentary follows her attempt to understand her mother and tell the story of how she found out that her father was not her biological father. Filmmakers turning the camera can be pretty boring (her sister’s response at the beginning of “who fucking cares about our family” at least shows the consciousness of trying to avoid this), but Polley has a clear vision of what she wants here. She is gentle but tough with her family, asking them the questions they don’t want to answer about their mother, a high-energy artistic type (with perhaps not that much talent) who was divorced at lost her 3 kids in custody (evidently the first such case in Canada) and then married an actor (Michael Polley, still active today) with whom she had 2 more children in a fairly loveless marriage. Or did she have 2 children in that marriage? Sarah doesn’t look like her siblings. At all, except somewhat with one sister. She’s much lighter-skinned and fairer in complexion. They joked about her having a different father for years. Turns out they were right. Her mom had gone to do a play in Montreal for a couple of months where she rediscovered herself, bloomed, and had one (or more) affairs. She died of cancer when Sarah was 11, something the film does not dwell upon.
What Polley presents is the complexity of truth and storytelling, the difficulties of putting together a narrative that tells what “actually happened.” There stories we tell aren’t the stories others tell about the same thing. There is anything particularly new about that revelation, but what I think Polley is really doing is exploring a question that also dominates her fantastic film “Take This Waltz,” that of women, perhaps indecisive, discovering themselves and their sexuality through an affair. I see the two films as variations on this theme and both approach it with great skill. Polley’s an outstanding director and I hope she has the artistic vision and gets the funding to pursue more work.