Away From Her
Review by Jack Foley
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Commentary with Julie Christie; Theatrical trailer.
ACTRESS Sarah Polley is no stranger to subject matter that balances intelligence with sensitivity (as roles in The Sweet Hereafter and My Life Without Me will testify).
Now that she has turned her hand to directing it should come as no surprise to find that her debut film Away From Her is a deeply moving affair that offers a thoughtful, even heartbreaking look at the impact of Alzheimer’s on an elderly relationship.
After being married for 40 years (and not always happily), Fiona (Julie Christie) and Grant (Gordon Pinsent) arrive at a crossroads when she is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and forced to reside in an institution.
But the care home insists on a “no visitors” policy for the first month after arrival and Grant is forced to wait at home, separated from Fiona for the first time in their relationship.
When he finally gets to be reunited, however, he is dismayed to find that she has embarked on another friendship with a fellow patient and barely recognises him, prompting him to arrive at a difficult decision in order to maintain her happiness.
Beautifully acted, if a touch overlong, Away From Her is a first-class piece of filmmaking that really marks Polley out as a major talent to watch.
Christie shines as Fiona, lending her a beautiful charisma that’s impossible to escape. The onset of Alzheimer’s feels like a particularly cruel blow to a woman who is otherwise completely present and filled with a passion for life.
But Pinsent is equally touching as Grant, especially in his selfless determination to keep his wife both safe and happy. The actor is often forced to rely on looks rather than words to convey his quiet torment and will doubtless have viewers on the verge of tears throughout.
There’s strong support, too, from Michael Murphy, as the patient Fiona befriends, Olympia Dukakis, as his wife, and Kristen Thomas as a salt of the earth nurse who offers Grant some guidance (and hope).
The direction, meanwhile, never feels forced or laboured, content merely to let the talented cast take centre stage and the tragic events speak for themselves.
The result is a film that’s not always easy or cheerful viewing but which remains as rewarding as it is, eventually, life affirming.
Running time: 110mins