Watching: The Films of Sarah Polley

… and power of personal narrative.

By The Watching Team

Dear Watchers,

We know your watching time is limited. And the amount of things available to watch … is not. Looking for a movie? Nearly any movie ever made? It’s probably streaming somewhere. That’s a lot of movies.

Below, we’re suggesting two of them, the latest of our weekly double-feature recommendations. We think the movies will pair well — with each other and with you.


Your weekly double feature: Sarah Polley

Sarah Polley in a scene from “Stories We Tell.”Roadside Attractions

‘Stories We Tell’ and ‘Away From Her’

Before she moved behind the camera, the Canadian filmmaker Sarah Polley was cast in pivotal roles in Atom Egoyan’s “Exotica” and “The Sweet Hereafter,” playing sensitive teenagers who are asked to keep secrets and advance a carefully crafted fiction. These lies, told at the behest of adults, carry different emotional burdens in both films, but Polley surely took away something about the deceptive power of personal narrative.


Little did Polley know at the time how much it would apply to her own life. While the secret at the center of her brilliant documentary “Stories We Tell,” now streaming on the Criterion Channel, isn’t nearly as scandalous as those in the Egoyan films, she has turned the truth about her parentage into a prismatic family memoir. Sitting her father, her siblings and other relevant parties in front of the camera, Polley asks each of them questions about her deceased mother, a free-spirited actress who didn’t take easily to domestic convention. As one big revelation comes to light, the memories of her subjects start to deviate from a shared set of facts, and Polley shrewdly reflects these disruptions by upending the documentary form itself.

Polley’s directorial debut, “Away From Her,” is fictional but much more straightforward, and memories are once again a devastating central theme. Adapting the Alice Munro short story “The Bear Came Over the Mountain,” Polley registers the fallout from an unusual affair. As the effects of a woman’s Alzheimer’s disease put distance between herself (Julie Christie) and her husband (Gordon Pinsent) after 44 years of marriage, the woman takes up with a mute and wheelchair-bound man in an Ontario nursing home. For the husband, coming to terms with the pain of this betrayal requires summoning a love that only he can remember. SCOTT TOBIAS

Stream “Stories We Tell” on the Criterion Channel. Rent it on Amazon, Apple TV, Google Play, Vudu and YouTube.

Rent “Away From Her” on Amazon, Apple TV, Google Play, Vudu and YouTube.


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