A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Away From Her (Sarah Polley, 2006)

Inevitably, because both films deal with Alzheimer's, I want to compare Away From Her to Still Alice. Both contain extraordinary female performances: Julianne Moore won an Oscar for the latter and Julie Christie was nominated for the former -- she lost to Marion Cotillard for La Vie en Rose (Olivier Dahan). Of the two films, I think Away From Her is superior, in large part because its screenplay (by Polley, who was also nominated for writing it) has a strong source: Alice Munro's story "The Bear Came Over the Mountain." It also has a remarkable supporting cast: Much of the movie is carried by Gordon Pinsent, a Canadian actor not well known enough in the States, as Grant Anderson, whose wife of 40-plus years, Fiona (Christie), insists on being institutionalized when the symptoms of the disease become too pronounced. But he is not allowed to see her for 30 days after she enters the nursing home: It's explained to him that the patients need time to adjust to their new surroundings, but a sympathetic nurse (Deanna Dezmari) suggests that this policy is more for the convenience of the staff than for the patients. I don't know if it's an actual policy in nursing homes for Alzheimer's patients, but it proves disastrous for Grant because by the time he is able to see Fiona again, she has formed an attachment, perhaps as more caregiver than lover, to a fellow patient, Aubrey (Michael Murphy), and treats Grant as if he's an acquaintance she can't quite place. It's an interesting if somewhat contrived situation, especially when Grant seeks out Aubrey's wife, Marian (Olympia Dukakis), who not only resents the relationship of Aubrey and Fiona but also removes him from the nursing home to care for him herself, partly because she is unable to cover the expenses. Dukakis gives a fine, astringent performance as the initially hostile Marian. ("What a jerk!" she says after Grant visits her.) It helps to undercut the drift toward sentimentality that could so easily swamp such a movie. Christie is, as always, impossibly beautiful, and her careful delineation of Fiona's initial distress and disorientation, and her eventual decline, is easily as good as Moore's in Still Alice. I have the same reservations about Away From Her that I did about that film: that Alzheimer's is portrayed as a problem particularly hard on affluent, educated white people, though this movie does touch on the financial difficulties that apparently even Canadians face because of it.

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