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Away From Her

Canada 2006
Directed by
Sarah Polley
105 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bruce Paterson
4 stars

Away From Her

Synopsis Fiona (Julie Christie) and Grant (Gordon Pinsent) are an Ontario couple who have been married for over 40 years. Now, in the twilight of their years, they are forced to face the fact that Fiona's "forgetfulness" actually is Alzheimer's Disease. They agree she must go into a nursing home and for the first time in the five decades their relationship has spanned, they are forced to be apart.

"I think I'm beginning to disappear..."

Who are we if we forget ourselves? Who do we love if we forget who we love? Memory binds who we are, and Away From Her is a love story about dementia's erosion of a marriage, a past, a life. Based on "The Bear Came Over The Mountain" by Alice Munro, Canadian writer/director Sarah Polley (also an actor probably best known to readers of this site as Ann in My Life Without Me, 2003) expertly demonstrates the joyful but also sometimes cruel reality of living and its very personal transformation in the alembic of forgetfulness.

The film speaks entirely from the point of view of an elderly couple, lovers in every sense of the word. Fiona is slowly forgetting her recent past, increasingly plagued by darker memories of the long past which are bubbling into the present. Her husband Grant eventually moves her into a rest home as a temporary measure. Somewhat foolishly, perhaps, the home forbids visitors for the first 30 days. Sure enough, by the time Grant visits, Fiona has a strong empathy with another patient, Aubrey, and appears not to remember Grant at all. Dealing quietly with this pain, Grant is left with the company of a reflective nurse (Kristen Thomson) and Aubrey's bemused, brisk wife (Olympia Dukakis). Amid memories of his past, shot in 8mm flashbacks, he ponders how best he can he love her. By holding on? Or perhaps by letting go?

For long-time fans of Julie Christie, her wonderful performance is like seeing a much-loved elder, known since days of youth and beautiful vitality, slip away. Her gravity holds in orbit the other characters, all played by actors who deliver with solid performances of their own. The camera lingers on their faces and both Christie and Pinsent have an impressive ability to breathe meaning into a glance or a sigh. Olympia Dukakis gives a wonderfully brusque, yet vulnerable, counterpart to their performances. Perhaps taking some cues from producer Atom Egoyan's own non-linear isolation themes, or further afield, from Ingmar Bergman, the Swedish master of existential angst, Polley has imagined love and fidelity with devastating impact.




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