Away From Her (Canada; 110 min.)


directed by: Sarah Polley
starring: Julie Christie; Gordon Pinsent; Olympia Dukakis
Away From Her
 

Beth says: "Sarah Polley’s directorial debut, an Alice Munro story, and a glorious Julie Christie – how could I miss it? And it didn’t disappoint – Christie and Gordon Pinsent play husband and wife grappling with how to handle her worsening Alzheimer’s. It’s an amazing story about love and partnership, loyalty and companionship, finding happiness living the best life you can with and for the people you love…amazingly, this was not only Polley’s debut as a narrative feature director, but as a screenplay adapter. I haven’t read this particular short story of Alice Munro’s, but what overwhelmed me was how perfectly Polley captured the essence and tone of a Munro piece. I was thrilled to read that the film was picked up by Lions Gate for distribution, and they’re already positioning it for Oscar consideration. The entire cast should be strong contenders – Olympia Dukakis and Michael Murphy as wonderful in support, as well. 4 1/2 cats

"This film was screened at the Toronto International Film Festival."

 
Michael says: "Ever since seeing Sarah Polley’s directorial work on the emotionally wrenching short film I SHOUT LOVE, I’ve been waiting to see her tackle a feature. That time has come, with this heartbreaking drama about an aging couple dealing with Alzheimer’s in AWAY FROM HER, a remarkable adaptation of Alice Munro’s short story, The Bear Came Over the Mountain. The talented and beautiful Julie Christie leads a talented cast including Canadian actor Gordon Pinsent, Olympia Dukakis, Kristen Thomson (the outstanding lead from I, CLAUDIA) and a host of familiar Canadian faces.

"Fiona and Grant have been married for over 40 years. They had a rocky start, while Grant was a young college professor with an eye for the students, but during the past twenty years or so, the pair moved to a remote cabin in the Canadian wilderness and have grown closer than they’d ever been before. When Fiona begins to succumb to Alzheimer’s and loses pieces of her memory, Grant does everything he can to support and care for her. Eventually she must be committed to a long-term care facility, and for the first time in 40+ years, the couple must spend a month apart during the transition phase.

"What starts as a drama about coping with disease, morphs into a surprising and complicated love story. Polley tackles the serious subject matter with grace and drama, along with a surprising amount of humor. The actors are up to the task. Pinsent is a revelation, and the amazing Julie Christie is a joy to watch. No surprise that the exceedingly talented Kristen Thomson seems like she couldn’t possibly be anything other than the nurse that she plays in the film. Olympia Dukakis gives a fine turn as a lonely woman whose husband is debilitated.

"There was so much I loved about AWAY FROM HER, the performances, the thoughtful use of music, the tranquil visuals, the intelligent script. For a first time feature narrative, Polley hits it out of the park. There was such a feel for me of an Atom Egoyan/THE SWEET HEREAFTER in the visuals and the pacing. Polley has certainly picked up some great directorial habits from some of the excellent filmmakers she has worked with. Here’s hoping it’s the start of a long and fruitful career. 5 cats"

 
Bruce says: "As a writer primarily focusing on the short story, Alice Munro documents the human condition with tender affection and bitter irony. Her characters are grounded in reality but are far from the norm, which is what makes them interesting. Her short story 'The Bear Came Over the Mountain' has been beautifully adapted by Sarah Polley and retitled AWAY FROM HER. This is not the first Munro short story to be adapted to the silver screen. An adaptation of her 'Boys and Girls' won an Academy Award for Best Short Film. A film version of 'Hateship, Friendship, Courtship' is in the planning stages.

"'Do you think it would be fun if we got married?' Grant reminisces about how he was proposed to. 'I took her up on it. She had the spark of life.' So began a forty four year marriage during which Fiona and Grant never spent as much as a month apart. As the film opens that is about to change. AWAY FROM HER simultaneously chronicles the heartbreak of progressive Alzheimer's and tracks the vicissitudes of love in a marriage that has been successful to varying degrees depending upon the vantage point, the current moment or what distant memory may bring. Sarah Polley's astounding film provides a thorough dissertation on the difficulties of marriage and the emotional devastation wrought by a debilitating disease. From scene to scene - and the story is not told chronologically - one's opinion of the marriage shifts. Without preaching or becoming maudlin Polley helps the viewer understand not only how illness affects the mind but how a healthy mind also has lapses of memory which result in a reconstructed truth.

"For Fiona, the signs of memory loss are gradual. She dries a frying pan and puts it away in the freezer. She takes her debilitation in stride and with a sense of humor. When she loses her train of thought she says 'Don't worry darling, I suppose I'm just losing my mind.' Finally, Fiona decides the time has come to go to Meadowlake, an assisted living facility. Madeline, the perky, tough-as-nails administrator is both maternally condescending and repulsively efficient as she gives Fiona and Grant a tour of the facilities. Madeline explains the 30 day trial period for new residents during which no visitors are allowed.

"Bit by bit we learn that Fiona and Grant’s marriage has not been ideal. Fiona says, 'We had nothing to ties us down. You could have driven away and forsaken me. I thank you for that.' 'There are things I wish would go away but don't,' she says of the twenty years they have been happily living at the cottage Fiona inherited from her grandparents.

"Kristy, the nurse in charge of Fiona's floor is gentle with Grant. She believes 'Life knocks the wind out of you...and you pick yourself up.' She, too, is tough but unlike Madeline her feelings are genuine. She has been stung by a failed marriage and is not willing to let Grant off the hook so easily when he confides that his marriage to Fiona has been wonderful. (The scene where Kristy confronts Grant is key to understanding the film.) It is she who steers Grant through the heartbreak of Fiona's new attachment to Aubrey, one of the other residents. Grant seeks solace from Aubrey's wife Marion and she also brings a no nonsense perspective to love, marriage and illness. In the end, Altzheimer's brings Fiona and Grant's love full circle much as it traveled around and around in Grant's philandering days.

"Julie Christie personifies beauty, elegance and grace; her performance is flawless. Gordan Pinsent is astonishing as a tormented man who displays few surface emotions. Kristen Thomson and Wendy Crewson add an element of authenticity to the Meadowlake scenes. Olympia Dukakis, off to a slow start, polishes her role off with a bang.

"The subtle tricks life plays upon us are rarely captured in film. AWAY FROM HER zeros in on life’s strange surprises much like Eric Rohmer’s CLAIRE’S KNEE. Polley's film is the work of a master. Not only is it her first feature, she has not yet turned thirty. 5 cats"