The first thing I can firmly say after seeing the film Away from Her is that I’m in love with Sarah Polley, the writer and director. In a year filled with big movies by big directors and actors to see a tender and intoxicating film like this slide into the saddle of awards season is a breath of fresh air.
Tender because of the two warm and quiet performances at the middle of this sobering story and intoxicating because you cling to every word that’s spoken and hang onto every moment shown because each of those moments and words are that important to the characters.
The ravishing Julie Christie plays Fiona, a woman to young to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. And the opinion that I walked away from this film with is that any age is too young for this debilitating disease. Gordon Pinsent plays the husband Grant Anderson whose been left behind, if not in presence then in memory and thought. The moment he realizes that memory is no longer a part of the equation is heartbreaking.
With moments like this and a subject like Alzheimer’s the film could have very easily been tragic, but the character Grant won’t give up and so neither does the audience. There’s a passion in his eyes for Fiona something that won’t let go of what they had, something that won’t allow Fiona to forget. And in Fiona a confusion. I can’t begin to describe the pain, uncertainty and fear that sits deeply embedded in Julie Christie’s eyes as she struggles to recall something, as she reaches into the deep recesses of her memory. That a vague feeling can’t be remembered. Searching.
And that’s what this film is about, two people who have spent their lives loving each other who are searching for what makes them who they are as individuals and together. Is it their memory or is it their continuing commitment to each other? In this regard guilt also plays a part in Grant’s confusion. Fiona tells Grant that he could have gone at any time, there was no reason for him to stay. There were younger and more beautiful women. And when she repeats those words again later in the film they sink in so deeply you understand perhaps what Polley thinks is more important.
Did I mention that I am now in love with Sarah Polley? The depth to which she shows these lovers’ connection and unwillingness to allow who they were to fade away shows true passion in the filmmaker. A true understanding of what should be important to people and what’s important to her. She doesn’t fill the frame with melodrama, but lets the emotions come from what is most often unsaid. She trusts the actor’s performances to say what unnecessary camera movement and editing would only get in the way of.
I didn’t see this film in the theatre, but the intimacy perhaps of seeing it by myself on a television subtracted nothing, in fact it might have added something. The movie sinks in. Very much like an Atom Egoyan film. The Canadian director who has worked with Polley before in The Sweet Hereafter and who Executive Produces this film. Though his influence is strong, the voice at work is Polley’s. It’s a film that’s both great in it’s emotional wisdom and effective in it’s allowing us to feel what these character’s are going through. I look forward to her next work.