When fable is a synonym of story, then Fabelman translates to The Story Man; it’s an apt pseudonym for one of the greatest storytellers the silver screen has ever known. As he enters the third act of his illustrious career, Steven Spielberg is in a reflective mood, looking back to tell his life’s story and recount how he fell in love with the movies in this 1950s-set semi-memoir.

In The Fabelmans, young Sammy Fabelman falls head over heels in love with cinema after his parents take him to see The Greatest Show on Earth. He soon starts to make his own films at home, and gets very upset when his dad refers to it as a hobby. For Sammy, it’s an obsession: every event, no matter how small, can be shot and edited into something greater than itself.

Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Obviously, not everyone can be “the next Spielberg”, but The Fabelmans will surely inspire any potential filmmakers out there. The scenes of Sam making his 8mm movies using old school techniques and practical effects are a joy to watch, presented with the same love and reverence for the art form that Spielberg showed for the printing press in The Post.

The film’s trailer bills the story as a struggle between the “scientists and the artists”, the dreamers versus the realists. Yet the central battle is one that is much more simple… and heart-breaking. Judd Hirsch’s Uncle Boris, who leaves a lasting impact despite only appearing in one scene, perfectly captures Sam’s struggle when he says “Art. Family. It’ll tear you apart”.

Sammy discovers how right Boris was when he makes a film that inadvertently reveals a shocking family secret. The moment itself is incredibly cinematic, as Spielberg shoots on a circular dolly spinning around and around as Sam pieces the story together on his 8mm editing machine. Just like Cinema Paradiso, a reel tin full of cuttings and outtakes proves capable of bringing its viewer to tears – albeit not tears of joy.

Cinema can be an escape, a chance to leave life and your troubles at the door for a couple of hours. As Nicole Kidman recently stated, “even heartbreak can feel good in a place like this”. Sam uses his movies to escape his problems, his emotions and ultimately, his family, choosing to pursue his dream of filmmaking at the expense of all else.

Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Gabriel LaBelle delivers a star-making performance as the teenage Sam. At one point when standing up to a high school bullying, he even channels some serious Andrew “You better lawyer up, asshole” Garfield in The Social Network energy. The rest of the cast are uniformly excellent, with Paul Dano, Seth Rogen and Michelle Williams delivering particularly strong performances. However, no matter what her Oscar campaign might define her as, Williams is not the lead of this movie; every Fabelman is supporting Sam’s story, and it only makes sense that the movie should be viewed that way.

It must be an incredibly daunting prospect to put one’s life up on screen for others to analyse, as Spielberg has. One might argue that turning your life into a multi-million dollar movie is probably (slightly) more expensive than therapy, but such is the life of an artist.

The Fabelmans is in UK cinemas from January 27th.