Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. Canada, 2012. National Film Board of Canada. Screenplay by Sarah Polley, narration by Michael Polley. Cinematography by Iris Ng. Produced by Sonia Hosko, Anita Lee. Music by Jonathan Goldsmith. Production Design by Lea Carlson. Costume Design by Sarah Armstrong. Film Editing by Mike Munn. National Board of Review Awards 2013. New York Film Critics 2013. North Carolina Film Critics Awards 2013. Online Film Critics Awards 2013. Phoenix Film Critics Awards 2013. Toronto International Film Festival 2012. Washington Film Critics Awards 2013.
Sarah Polley puts her own life on camera as she explores the way that memories of are shaped in the collective consciousness of groups (in this case, her family) who undergo notable experiences or realizations. The investigation is inspired by her discovery some years ago that she is not the biological daughter of her father Michael, but was sired by another man during a brief affair her mother had while appearing in a play in Montreal. Polley very cheekily has her father perform the narration for the film (and in a step beyond meta filmmaking shows herself directing his recording of this narration); she also sits her siblings, friends and former colleagues of her late mother’s down to discuss the subject’s mercurial personality, the ups and downs of her marriage through the years and the many rumours about young Sarah’s parentage that have been swirling around pretty much since the director was born. There is also richly enjoyable home movie footage blended seamlessly with recreated scenes from the director’s past; scenes recreated so well (and cast so perfectly), that it might take a while before you realize that nobody sane would actually film a funeral for their home movie collection. The effect of the admissions combined with the footage creates something magical and thought provoking: Polley has often given opaque performances in roles that have kept audiences at arm’s length and simultaneously made her the queen of indie cool, but here she allows us, despite a disappointing lack of personal revelation on her part, to feel deeply close to her. The film is also a fascinating look at the nature of personal narrative, the control we exert over our past to make it fit into a conception we have of our own lives, and the way that all the hardest truths exist somewhere in the middle of everyone’s perceptions.