Friday, April 11, 2014

Away From Her

Originally Written and Posted at on 10/2/07 w/ Additional Edits & Revisions.

Based on the short story The Bear Came the Mountain by Alice Munro, Away from Her is the story of a couple's blissful life is changed when the woman suffers from Alzheimer's disease as her husband copes with the changes as he takes her to a nursing home. Written for the screen and directed by Sarah Polley, the film is an exploration into the world of Alzheimer's disease where a man tries to deal with his wife's illness. Starring Julie Christie, Gordon Pinsent, Olympia Dukakis, Kristen Thomson, Michael Murphy, and Wendy Crewson. Away From Her is a startling yet enchanting film from Sarah Polley. 

The film is an exploration into the life of a couple where a woman starts to lose her memory as she is suffering from Alzheimer's disease as her husband tries to cope with the disease as he reluctantly takes her into a nursing home. It's a drama that showcases a man dealing with the disease and the unexpected changes it would have as Grant (Gordon Pinsent) is forced to watch his wife Fiona (Julie Christie) become attached to another patient in Aubrey (Michael Murphy) whose wife Marian (Olympia Dukakis) also watches. For Grant, it's a hard pill to swallow as he deals with the new change in his life as it's a film that could've become a sappy melodrama. Instead, it's a film that is about the loss and the fear of that loss.

What Sarah Polley does with her script and direction goes for a meditative approach of a woman's disintegration as her husband is forced to watch her mind leave with her not remembering who she is half of the time. The script is wonderfully structured with the first act about the beginning of the end and Grant's first trip to the Meadowland facilities, the second is about him coming to terms about Fiona's relationship with Aubrey, and the third act is about her continuing disintegration through the disease.

The dialogue feels realistic that also includes text from many books read in the film while some of the words do end up being funny just to add a bit of humor to a very serious drama. The direction that Polley has taken is very observant and enchanting as she takes the camera to unveil a woman's disintegration where she would pull the camera away to dramatize its sadness. What is really amazing in Polley's approach to the film is how restrained the drama is since the actors are given more dimension while not being overly sentimental or very dramatic to emphasize the subject matter. While the film is a bit flawed due to a few pacing issues where the entire film does move very slow, it works to convey that sense of emotional, mental disintegration. Overall, Polley proves herself to be a very strong director who can channel a scene while not doing to much to convey heavy emotions.

Cinematographer Luc Montpellier brings a wonderfully dreamy look to some of the film's sequences at the Meadowlands while the rest is very intimate and colorful while the exterior shots is gorgeous with the white snow laid down on the Canadian film location. Production designer Kathleen Climie and art director Benno Tutter create a low-key look to the film's Meadowlands facility along with an intimate, earthy look to the home of Grant and Fiona. Costume designer Debra Hanson plays to the film's natural look with clothing that looks normal with the exception of a tacky, striped sweater and a yellow dress that Julie Christie wears that in the former, causes Grant to be upset.

Editor David Wharnsby brings a wonderful approach to the editing by not doing any stylized or fast-cutting but rather in playing with the film's structure to make the film play like memory of sorts which gives the film a unique feel and tone. Sound designer Jane Tattersall definitely adds a nice tone to the film's sound with the use of cars, elevators, and objects to convey the intimate feel of the Meadowlands where it's nearly silent as well as Grant and Fiona's home. Jonathan Goldsman brings a plaintive, subtle score of guitars and piano to convey the sadness and emotional intensity of the film to convey the tragedy while not overdoing it which definitely works in the film.

The film's cast is definitely wonderful assembled by Polley's brother John Buchan that includes memorable, minor performances from Nina Dobrev as a teenager bored by her holiday visit at the Meadowlands, Ron Hewat as an ex-sports announcer who still does play-by-play, and Angela Watson in a small role as a doctor. Wendy Crewson is excellent in her role as the Meadowlands supervisor by acting both professional and caring who reminds Grant of what he has to face. Kristen Thomson is wonderful as the very sympathetic nurse Kristy who bonds with Grant over Fiona while often reminding him that it's never easy to deal with loss. Michael Murphy is great despite having no dialogue and having to be in a wheelchair yet adds life through the facial responses he makes in the film. Olympia Dukakis is brilliant as Marian, Aubrey's wife who understands what Grant is feeling though she is a bit upset over what Fiona was doing to Aubrey while coming to terms over their relationship.

Gordon Pinsent is incredible in his performance as Grant. An icon known to Canadians, Pinsent's performance is wonderfully restrained and subtle as in some ways, he's the observer for the audience watching his wife becoming detached from him. Pinsent's tender chemistry with Julie Christie is wonderful to watch as if they're both a couple who have known each other for a long time. Julie Christie delivers a truly radiant performance as Fiona. Looking very beautiful for her age and almost youthful in some ways, Christie remains jaw-dropping with her performance as she brings subtlety and an innocence to her approach in playing a victim of Alzheimer's without being overly-dramatic.

Away From Her is a remarkable film from Sarah Polley that features great performances from Julie Christie and Gordon Pinsent. It's a film that is a very smart and engaging film for the way it explores the world of Alzheimer's disease without delving into heavy-handed melodrama. Especially as Polley balances it with being a love story and a story about loss. In the end, Away from Her is an extraordinary film from Sarah Polley.

Sarah Polley Films: Take This Waltz - Stories We Tell - Women Talking

© thevoid99 2014


Brittani Burnham said...

Great review, all I did during this movie was cry. It's the main reason I won't see Amour, because it reminds me too much of this one. Sarah Polley is truly a gifted filmmaker.

thevoid99 said...

Well, they're very different films as this one is a melodrama while Amour is more of a cerebral drama. Still, they're both superb films as I really like what Sarah Polley has done as a filmmaker as I want to see Stories We Tell.

ruth said...

Man I really need to start watching Sarah Polley films, she seems to be a really good filmmaker. I've only seen her as an actress and actually saw her in person at TIFF, she's very petite and pretty :D

Great review as always, I'm more interested in seeing this than Amour for some reason, tho both deals with a similar subject.

thevoid99 said...

@ruth-While I prefer Amour for its cerebral aspects and the fact that it's a Michael Haneke film. I would still recommend this film as just a very poignant and touching love story.