Film Reviews

AWAY FROM HER

By • May 4th, 2007 •

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Lionsgate / The Film Farm & Foundry Films / PG / 110 min

Powerful. Writer-director Sarah Polley rightly deserves the kind of praise heaped upon Sofia Coppola for the lousy LOST IN TRANSLATION.

My mother succumbed to Alzheimer’s. I found a fantastic private assisted-living home facility and a loving nurse care-provider, Priscilla Barcelon, who gave my mother a rewarding life for 10 years. Priscilla, from the Philippines, always made fresh vegetables and banquet meals. My mother had her nails done and was always well-groomed. My mother gained weight and, reluctantly, had to be put on a diet. However, like the woman in AWAY FROM HOME, my mother gradually declined from a group home situation to Priscilla’s full 24-hour dedicated Alzheimer’s home facility.

Canadian actress Sarah Polley adapted an Alice Munro short story and directed this outstanding film. Polley has a magnificent career ahead of her as a director. Julie Christie, Gordon Pinsent, and Olympia Dukakis all merit Academy Award nominations. Polley deserves two nominations: Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay.

Retired professor Grant (Gordon Pinsent) is serenely married to his gorgeous wife of 44 years, Fiona (the luminous Julie Christie). Slowly, Fiona and Grant realize that she is becoming more and more forgetful. Try as they might to accommodate the problems that have arisen, Fiona recognizes that she needs to go to an assisted-living facility. Grant is opposed to this arrangement and prefers to continue their life in the snow-covered cottage they have lived in for 20 years. Fiona is so sophisticated, groomed and stylish that it is hard to imagine she is soiling her underwear or forgetting how to brush her teeth.

While Fiona is forgetting the present, her long-term memory is still aware of the cruel pain of Grant’s earlier indiscretions with so many female students. Did Fiona regret compromising and her decision to stay in the marriage?

At the assisted-living facility, Fiona quickly forgets who Grant is and forms an attachment with a mute patient, Aubrey (Michael Murphy). Fiona has become Aubrey’s primary caregiver and companion. He needs her.

Grant, struggling with his grief and loss, comes to the facility every day and sits alone watching Fiona nurse Aubrey. He tries to see her and finally asks why she likes Aubrey. She clearly explains and we understand.

After my mother had been moved, I got a call from Priscilla asking for a private meeting. Apparently, my mother was behaving “inappropriately.” The staff already accepted my mother’s foul language but what was “inappropriate” behavior? Was my mother hiding food or stealing money from other residents?

Knowing my mother, what was “inappropriate” behavior shouldn’t have shocked me, but it did. Such activity is generally acknowledged as a byproduct of Alzheimer’s. I pleaded with Priscilla on my mother’s behalf. My mother was given private time.

However, while Grant asked about sexual shenanigans, Fiona was a model resident.

Aubrey’s wife Marian (Olympia Dukakis) takes him out of the facility and his departure has a devastating effect on Fiona. She is so overwhelmed by depression that Grant decides he must to something – and later, anything – to get Aubrey back for his wife.

AWAY FROM HER takes a poetic, unexpected turn.

For someone who liked GRINDHOUSE, 300, 28 WEEKS LATER, and VACANCY, I will say that I was overwhelmed with the artistry of writer-director Sarah Polley. Making a movie about Alzheimer’s without getting mushy (The awful THE NOTEBOOK) or tugging on the heart strings, is not easy. In fact, before this, I would have said it was impossible.

Polley showcases her talent as a writer by giving us many subtle, yet devastating, conversations. The strongest moment in AWAY FROM HER is a scene between Grant and Kristy (Kristen Thomson), the facility’s head nurse.

I hope that AWAY FROM HER will be remembered when award season comes around at the end of the year. You can trust me here – and I hate message movies and movies with heavy furniture sentimentality – AWAY FROM HER is unforgettable.


Credits:
Director: Sarah Polley
Screenwriter: Sarah Polley
Based on the short story “The Bear Came Over the Mountain” by: Alice Munro
Executive producers: Atom Egoyan, Doug Mankoff
Director of photography: Luc Montpellier
Production designer: Kathleen Climie
Music: Jonathan Goldsmith

Cast:
Fiona: Julie Christie
Grant: Gordon Pinsent
Marian: Olympia Dukakis
Kristy: Kristen Thomson
Aubrey: Michael Murphy
Madeleine: Wendy Crewson

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