Year:  2023

Director:  Saara Lamberg

Running time: 89 minutes

Worth: $14.50
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Saara Lamberg, Jane Badler, James Dudelson, Samantha Greenwood, David Farrington

… unique and joyful …

Filmmaker Saara Lamberg (Innuendo) is trying to make her third film, The Lies We Tell Ourselves, and this film is, essentially, the making of that film. It is also the actual film, The Lies We Tell Ourselves. Confused? Don’t be.

Lamberg plays a version of herself in this mockumentary, which follows the Finnish Australian director as she travels around the world. When we first meet her, Lamberg offers the viewer a look at the glamour and idealist lifestyle that comes from being part of the art industry. This bubble is unceremoniously burst when she reveals to the audience what it’s really like, culminating with her falling on the red carpet at Cannes and no one really rushing to her aid.

This tumble in front of the paparazzi is reflective of her journey to make her film, as Lamberg is faced by numerous comic obstacles that, though fictional, clearly have a seed of truth in them. Her middle-aged sales agent (James Dudelson) wants to help her sell the film but is more interested to nabbing a part that she’s written, which is more suited to a 20-something actor. When she makes an application for funding, the executive (Samantha Greenwood) is keener to get her work as an admin assistant in her office than dole out cash. When she bares her soul to a therapist (David Farrington), he just tells her to wear the colour red often and smile more. She can’t even lend someone a cup of sugar without them stripping off and asking for an audition!

Lamberg, for her part, narrates the story as someone both frustrated with how to tell it but excited about the opportunities that present themselves. She plays around with the film’s style and substance; deciding early on to make the documentary a silent movie before scrapping that idea. She picks apart her own work, highlighting where scenes have been ruined by grubby lenses. Her voiceover is the tiny voice that sits at the back of the brain praising achievements one second before dashing them in the same breath.

Like Robert Greene’s docudrama Kate Plays Christine, Lamberg uses documentary tropes to blur fact and fiction in order look at the bigger picture, to explore her own raw thoughts around filmmaking. ‘You might get frustrated,’ she admits when she contemplates what her audience is thinking. While the film is far from frustrating, there are moments where some of the film’s improvisational scenes don’t land as well as others. In these moments, a tighter edit may have helped.

If this is all sounding a touch pretentious for your tastes, then Lamberg is ready for you. In one of the film’s cheekiest moments, she allows her art to be ‘mansplained’ through two actors who postulate about its meaning, while strutting around churches like they’re on a BBC documentary on the British Isles. It’s as if Lamberg is pre-empting what could be thrown at her around the film’s missed opportunities and yes, the irony is not lost on this critic that he is partaking in the same dissection that she’s satirising.

Overall, The Lies We Tell Ourselves is more art installation than narrative driven feature. Despite her mock protestations that she hasn’t enjoyed the process of putting the film together, Lamberg has come up with something that is both unique and joyful.

Screening in the Cinephiles screening selection of Cannes Film Festival 2023