|© 2007 by C.E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.
actresses working in cinema today is Sarah
amassed numerous credits in fine motion
pictures yet she has not ascended to the ranks
of "stardom" in the United States. Some people
have made comparisons between her and Jodie
Foster, and like Foster, the Canadian-born Polley
has also shown an interest behind the camera.
She has written and directed several short films,
so it's no surprise that she has now made a
feature film, AWAY FROM HER, which debuted
at the Toronto Film Festival in 2006 and was
screened at Sundance in 2007.
Polley was moved after reading "The Bear Came
Over the Mountain," a short story by Alice
Munro, so she optioned the piece and wrote the
screenplay. Surprisingly, the piece deals with an
older couple who are suddenly facing a crisis as
the wife is diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.
Given the current marketplace, this is a very
bold and risky choice, but Polley clearly knows
what she is doing and she has cast the piece
with impeccable care.
Grant (Gordon Pinsent) and his wife Fiona (a
luminous Julie Christie) have been married for
many years. Early in the film, the couple are
mundanely washing dishes when Fiona suddenly
puts a newly clean frying pan in the freezer. She
makes a joke about it, but her husband knows it
is no laughing matter: she has had a diagnosis
of Alzheimer's disease and he begins to worry
as she shows increasing signs of progression.
For her part, Fiona decides that she wants some
control and opts to enter an assisted living
The move traumatizes the relationship between
Fiona and Grant, who after some forty-plus
years of marriage will be separated for one
month's time. On the drive there, Fiona casually
brings up Grant's past marital betrayals, often
with the students he was teaching. Once they
arrive, Polley manages to satirize the precise,
rigid regimen of life there, all carried out under
the glazed smile of the administrator (Wendy
Grant finds some comfort in chatting with nurse
Kristy (Kristen Thomsen) who has seen it all and
knows how to gently and plainly discuss
patients and their relatives. As Fiona falls
deeper into the disease, she forms a bond with
a wheelchair-ridden patient named Aubrey
(Michael Murphy) whom she believes she knew
as a young girl. Grant begins to grow jealous,
but he is also painfully aware that this is some
cosmic payback for his own indiscretions. He
persistently shows up daily for visits, despite
Fiona's lack of recognition.
After Aubrey leaves the facility at the behest of
his wife Marian (Olympia Dukakis), Grant takes
the bold step of approaching her with a request
to allow her husband at least a visit to the
facility. It seems that Fiona has grown worse
and Grant is convinced that seeing him will help
her. Marian is more pragmatic and explains
exactly why she disagrees with his idea. Yet,
she also recognizes that there is a common
bond they share and the pair begin their own
Under Polley's polished direction, the actors
deliver superlative performances. Christie is
excellent as Fiona and she negotiates the tricky
line of depicting dementia without resorting to
the usual histrionics. Dukakis is appropriately
tart as Marian and Michael Murphy lends a quiet
dignity to the mostly non-verbal role of Aubrey.
Thomsen unfurls the various layers to her
character in a succinct yet purposeful manner.
The film, though, really belongs to Pinsent, a
veteran Canadian actor, who carries the bulk of
the film. Like Christie, he eschews the obvious
and subtly creates a complex character, a man
who clearly loves his wife yet who could easily
cheat on her. Together all these elements make
AWAY FROM HER, a beautifully realized film.
Running time: 110 mins.
|L to R: Gordon Pinsent as Grant and Julie Christie as Fiona
in Away from Her
Photo credit: Michael Gibson
© 2006,2007 Lions Gate. All Rights Reserved