In her first fiction feature The Tale, acclaimed documentarian Jennifer Fox (Beirut: The Last Home Movie, An American Love Story) approaches the subject of her own childhood sexual abuse with an unfathomable amount of honesty and unequaled bravery in a film which is set to become a seminal cinematic events in the wake of the #MeToo movement.

Starring Laura Dern as a taller and blonder Jennifer Fox, the film plays on our own perception of memory and what we choose to remember and opt to subconsciously forget from traumatic events. Presenting its audience with a narrative which challenges its own subject’s recollection of events, The Tale is likely to leave a lasting impression on our collective memories as one of the most important stories ever told by a female filmmaker.

Jenny (Laura Dern), is an accomplished documentary director and university professor whose work has taken her all the around the world, and has often put her in some very dangerous situations. On her return home from a recent work trip, 48-year-old Jenny finds several frantic voicemail messages from her panic-stricken mother (Ellen Burstyn) regarding an urgent matter. When a package from her mother arrives the next day containing a short story written by her when she was just 13, Jenny is suddenly forced to confront painful childhood memories from a summer spent at a riding school owned by the charismatic Mrs. G (Elizabeth Debicki) and her dealings with a 40 year-old sports coach who helped with training the students.

Elizabeth Debicki the tale

From here on, Fox takes us through a series of flashbacks and the memories of what took place during that fateful summer and why she never felt like sharing the incident with her parents at the time. First dismissing it as something which should stay in the past, Jenny eventually finds herself unable of thinking of anything else and proceeds in her attempt to put the puzzle together by meeting and talking to some of the people who were present at the time.

Fox offers a beautifully crafted story which isn’t afraid of challenging classical storytelling techniques in the most courageous ways. Inserting her older alter ego into the flashback scenes and having her often interrogate the people from her past offscreen, Fox is able to infiltrate her own memories in order to fully comprehend what really happened to her all those years ago. With shocking scenes of sexual abuse (it is made clear from the offset that sexual scenes involving young Jenny are acted out by an older actor), The Tale isn’t afraid of challenging our own feelings on what should and shouldn’t be shown on screen when it comes to retelling stories of sexual abuse.  While never gratuitous, the sexual abuse scenes are almost never cut short or even faded out, they are there deliberately to make us stand up and pay attention.

Laura Dern is magnificent as Fox, she handles the story with great and abundant care and attention to detail, making you wonder who else could have taken on such a challenging role. For her part, Isabelle Nélisse gives a truly mesmerizing performance as young Jenny,  and is beyond impressive in her understanding of what is demanded of her.

Overall, The Tale isn’t just timely and urgent, it is also a very personal story of anguish, doubt and finally pure unbridled anger. In making this film, Jennifer Fox has managed to share her own story of abuse in the most calm and collected manner which will certainly go down in history as one of the most honestly told stories to ever making onto the screen.

Following the lead of the film’s twitter page we wanted to include details of how to get help if you have been affected by any of the subjects raised in the film.