Julie Christie is grace incarnate as Fiona, a woman in the grip of Alzheimer’s in Away from Her (2006), the directorial debut of Canadian actress Sarah Polley.
“I think I may be beginning to disappear,” she comments to dinner guests at their dream cottage in the snowy woods, made suddenly uncomfortable at such a vivid illustration of human mortality. her devoted, doting husband Grant (Gordon Pinsent), a man who has fallen in love all over again, just wants to hold on to her, so she makes the decision to move into a retirement home and go “with a little grace.”
Thirty days later, their life together has been lost in the haze and her affections shifted to a mute artist (Michael Murphy) and Pinsent’s exquisitely sad gaze tells everything about Grant’s quiet torment.
First-time director Polley creates a film of moods and tones and pools of feeling, full of moving moments in an almost too pretty portrait of human deterioration, photographed through a lens as forgiving and idealizing as Grant’s adoring gaze. There’s nothing messy or unkempt about the beautifully, quietly heartbreaking story of unconditional love and emotional sacrifice.
Yet beneath the placid surface are hints of Fiona’s subconscious struggling to keep lost memories suppressed while Grant confronts the guilt of his past betrayals. It gives Away From Her a powerful poignancy and a hushed, devastating beauty. It’s less a drama about Alzheimer’s than a cinematic poem of love and loss.
Olympia Dukakis and Kristen Thomson costar.
It earned Oscar nominations for Julie Christie’s performance and Sarah Polley’s screenplay, which she adapted from the short story “The Bear Came Over the Mountain” by Alice Munro. It won seven Genie Awards (the Canadian answer to the Academy Awards), including best picture, director, screenplay and three acting awards, and Polley also won the best director award from the Director’s Guild of Canada. Christie, meanwhile, won numerous awards, including those from the National Society of Film Critics and The New York Film Critics Circle.
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Away From Her [DVD]
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The DVD features commentary by actress Julie Christie and deleted scenes with commentary by director Sarah Polley.