Starring: Julie Christie, Gordon Pinsent, Michael Murphy, Olympia Dukakis, Kristen Thomson, Wendy Crewson, Alberta Watson, Thomas Hauff, Katie Boland, Deanna Dezmari, Nina Dobrev, Grace Lynn Kung, Melanie Merkosky
Written by: Sarah Polley, based on the short story The bear came down the mountain by Alice Munro
Directed by: Sarah Polley
Most movies who deal with a striking illness such as Alzeihmer's usually do so by focusing on the disease and overly dramatic consequences for the patient. First-time director Sarah Polley chose to underplay the ailment in her movie Away From Her, by focusing on a journey undertaken by two lovers at the end of a 45 year marriage.
The story concerns Canadians Grant and Fiona, living in rural Ontario. Grant used to be a teacher, whose indiscretions were forgiven by his wife providing they move away and start a new life. But reaching an advanced age, Fiona starts loosing her memory, to the point where she can barely venture out of their house without forgetting where she lives, and so Grant reluctantly agrees to let her live in a specialized center. Fiona knows the only way to live out her remaining years in peace is to let go of her memories, while Grant slowly realises he must not only let go, he must mourn as well.
Polley, a former child-star whose own journey in life and art allowed for a vast array of experiences, displays bravery in her debut by casting almost exclusively elderly actors (one of them unknown outside Canada), and tackles the subject with uncensored honesty. Grant can't understand why even an illness could make his wife forget 45 years of matrimony, and expresses so. The exploration of the man's own condition and soul bring the narrative into the unease of such a man's true loneliness, and the extent to which he is willing to go to let his wife be happy.
Casting, which so often makes or breaks such a storyline, is again as brave as any, and rightfully so. After viewing, one can hardly imagine anyone but the glassy eyed Gordon Pinsent to BE Grant, in a sober and gut-wrenching turn. His own work is matched with gusto by a glamour-less Olympia Dukakis, who brilliantly conveys that her character's own deadlock can only be solved by joining Grant out of his. And the still stunning Julie Christie shines as bright as ever, even though it brings a certain disapointment when flashback scenes use alternate actors on artificially vintaged film, instead of keeping the film's realism with genuine archive footage.
Some of the photography does point out the director's relative inexperience behind the camera, which is more than made up for by the intuitive pace, mood and uncommun sincerity of the film. Ms Polley may just be learning how to shoot a story, she definitely mastered how to tell one, as witnessed by the intruiguin back-n-forth narrative drive AND by a somber and minimized score that maintains the level of emotion from start to finish. Such that one hopes the young lady will stay behind cameras a little longer, if only to challenge other filmmakers to be as bold and uncompromising.
****1/2 / *****