We’ve all seen films about an older person losing a battle with their own mind. It’s when a film is done in a unique way that we remember it. Away From Her is a film you won’t soon forget.
Esteemed actress Sarah Polley (Dawn of the Dead remake, Go) gives a stunning writing and directing debut about two long-time lovers who suffer the loss through a terrifying affliction. Julie Christie plays a woman who quickly begins to descend to the affects of Alzheimer's disease as her dear husband, Gordon Pinsent, desperately tries to hold on to the 44 year love they share.
The initial beauty of the film (and there is much of it) is that it immediately deviates from formula. Instead of witnessing a slow, agonizing transformation into the depths of memory loss, we are given it right away, with the simple gesture of forgetting where a cooking pan goes. The film is also presented in a fresh narrative that is best not revealed.
Christie’s Fiona doesn’t deny her illness, she acknowledges the fact that she cannot attain information. It isn’t long before Fiona, along with her husband Grant, makes the decision to have her institutionalized. I’m afraid to say any more, because you’re thinking that you’ve seen it all before. Away From Her is different. It’s filled with shocking moments, and stunning discoveries. In fact this is one of the most haunting films I’ve ever seen, not in a gory, demonic fashion, but rather in a horribly realistic manner. Its true love gone astray, can you think of anything worse?
Thank Polley for the magnificently fashioned script. She writes her dialogue like a pro, filling her film with gut-wrenching moments, none greater than when the two are reunited after a mandatory 30 days apart. But somehow Polley manages to sneak in spirited, comical moments, namely a patient who never quite retired from his days as a sports announcer.
It’s hard to imagine that a 28-year-old director could get this much out of her actors. Christie is incredible. She reaches far and nails every single nuance of a daunting disease. Her blank stares and idle, thoughtless gestures are enough to wreck havoc on your heart.
Pinsent is utterly phenomenal; he is the person you won’t be able to shake. As the story progresses, his eyes swell further and further with tears, desperately trying to keep his educated composure. His tolerance for emotional pain is breathtaking. In a year dominated by big names, Pinsent is one you need to remember. His Grant is one of the most wonderfully restrained performances of the year.
Another highlight is the film’s beautifully arresting cinematography. Each shot is vivid, stunning and well paced, switching from a smooth, slow still shot, to a superbly timed tracking shot. The film uses light in ways rarely seen, drowning out empty halls with piercing sunshine, or casting a lovely shadow over a vast, snowy landscape.
Away From Her is a great, subtle exploration of the grieving process, fueled with some of the years best performances and an exceptionally memorable look. I’m not sure why Polley decided to adapt this story or direct it for that matter, but we all benefit from the reason. And while the Academy is notorious for stiffing female directors, her screenplay should surely put her on a short list for voters.
Most of us have lost someone. But few of us have lost a person that is still there. Away From Her explores that notion and begs you to hold on to what you have. A