Couple's golden years stolen by Alzheimer's in "Away From Her"
Not long into this wise and tender glimpse of a marriage slowly fracturing under the weight of an irrevocable outside force, a beautifully...
Special to The Seattle Times
"Away From Her," with Julie Christie, Gordon Pinsent, Michael Murphy, Olympia Dukakis.
Written and directed by Sarah Polley. 110 minutes. Rated PG-13 for some strong language. Seven Gables, Uptown.
Not long into this wise and tender glimpse of a marriage slowly fracturing under the weight of an irrevocable outside force, a beautifully aging woman tells her devoted husband, "I think all we can aspire to is a little bit of grace."
As Fiona Anderson, the still incandescent Julie Christie is talking about taking sensible hold of the Alzheimer's disease manifesting into her life. But grace is a word that has deep meaning not only to Fiona and her husband, Grant (Gordon Pinsent), but also to the whole of "Away From Her," based on a short story by Alice Munro. It is a remarkably accomplished feature-length directorial debut from 28-year-old Canadian actor Sarah Polley.
The pall of simple confusions such as where to put a skillet or forgetting everyday words during dinner with old friends quickly becomes much more than worrisome. The progression is hasty, and it's Fiona whose insight prevails even as her mind clouds.
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"Away From Her," with Julie Christie, Gordon Pinsent, Michael Murphy, Olympia Dukakis. Written and directed by Sarah Polley.
110 minutes. Rated PG-13 for some strong language.
"Sometimes there's something delicious in oblivion," she says intuitively — a remark that intimates so much more about their enigmatic past, glorious present and unknown future.
Her decision to maintain control and move to a care facility is wrenching for Grant, who rails with anguish against the cruel chink dividing them after 44 years. There's the suggestion of his long-ago infidelity and her long-gone acrimony. But now in a luminous winter where skiing across the frozen lake abutting their rustic country cottage is a twilight routine, their companionship is idyllic in practically every way.
All of this could easily have fallen into weepy schmaltz, a fate not even close to the heart of a film imbued with truthful nuance. Fiona's increasing distance from Grant is complex, his turmoil aggravated by her intimacy to a more "progressed" resident named Aubrey (an unspeaking Michael Murphy). Fiona becomes more agitated by Grant's visits, recognizing him in a way that suggests lucidity without understanding. When Grant presses her about Aubrey, she says with startling clarity, "He doesn't confuse me at all."
Polley's assured hand trembles only slightly in a structure that introduces Aubrey's wife (Olympia Dukakis) early on and lends Grant perhaps a shade more decency than required. The broken timeline is faithful to Munro's story but doesn't exactly skew with the screen narrative.
Nonetheless, "Away From Her" is superb, from its subtle atmospheres to its fine performances. Julie Christie is exquisite as ever purveying the spirit of a woman whose radiance remains even as it dims like the glow of sunset on a snowbound lake.
Ted Fry: firstname.lastname@example.org