Away From Her (DVD, 2007) Reviews
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Away From Her (DVD, 2007)

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What Will You Do Alone? Cause I Have to Go...

Oct 2, 2007
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Polley's Direction/Script, Locations, Cinematography, Score, & Cast.

Cons:A Few Pacing Issues.

The Bottom Line: Away From Her is a Stunning Debut from Sarah Polley featuring Oscar-Worthy Performances from Christie & Pinsent. (4.5 out of 5)



Known for her work with director Atom Egoyan in such films as Exotica and The Sweet Hereafter along with performances in Doug Liman's Go, Michael Winterbottom's The Claim, Isabel Coixet's My Life Without Me, and Zack Snyder's remake of Dawn of the Dead. Sarah Polley is considered to be Canada's finest actresses for her enchanting portrayals of women that's often garnered critical acclaim as well as being hailed as an darling for independent films. Then in 2006, Polley made her debut as both a writer and director for a drama about a couple’s life that's changed when a woman begins to suffer from Alzheimer's disease in the drama entitled Away From Her.

Written and directed by Polley, based on Alice Munro's short story The Bear Came The Mountain, Away From Her is the story of a married couple whose 50 years of bliss is changed when a woman begins to lose her memories. Forced to enter a nursing home, their lives changed when the woman begins to fall for another man at that hospital. Starring Julie Christie, Gordon Pinsent, Olympia Dukakis, Kristen Thomson, Michael Murphy, and Wendy Crewson. Away From Her is a startling, enchanting feature-film debut from Sarah Polley.

For forty-four blissful years, Grant (Gordon Pinsent) and Fiona (Julie Christie) lived very happily in their quiet home in Canada. Always together including skiing cross-country, their lives to be serene and enlightening. Then all of a sudden and slowly, that serene life starts to disintegrate when Fiona starts to forget things. First it was putting a frying pan onto the fridge and then, not remembering where kitchen appliances are. Slowly, Fiona is aware that's she has Alzheimer's disease. Since these little incidents and putting her into a nursing home, Grant is forced to recall these events on his way to meet a woman named Marian (Olympia Dukakis) whose husband Aubrey (Michael Murphy) had stayed in that same hospital.

Looking back, Grant remembers how slowly, she begins to lose her memories when all of a sudden when she's skiing, she doesn't return home and wanders around at a bridge. Fiona knows what is happening as the couple wonder what to do. For those forty-four years, they've never been apart as a doctor (Alberta Watson) suggests that Fiona should check herself into the Meadowlands Center for those with Alzheimer. Meeting its supervisor Madeleine (Wendy Crewson), she gives Grant a tour and idea of what they do at the center. With the help of a nurse named Kristy (Kristen Thomson), Gordon realize the place is helpful but isn’t sure about parting with Fiona.

After Fiona signs the documents where Gordon couldn't visit for the first 30 days so she can get acquainted, Gordon reluctantly takes her as before they part, they make love. While getting frequent reports from Kristy, Gordon learns that Fiona has been getting close to a mute, wheelchair-bound man named Aubrey. After 30 days, Gordon visits where he learns of Fiona's closeness with Aubrey who helps playing bridge and take him for walks. Gordon is forced to watch in distance to see the two becoming close as he tries to come to terms with the fact that she could be leaving him. When Aubrey is forced to be taken home by Miriam, Fiona's condition suddenly deteriorates as Gordon would read to her.

Finally talking to Miriam about what's going on, the two try to come to terms with everything as Gordon's visits start to make him miserable about his own wife. Even as she's been moved to the second floor, Gordon and Kristy talk about why is this happening. Finally, Gordon is forced to confront his own loneliness as well as the well-being of Fiona.

Films with Alzheimer's usually tend to have some sense of melodrama that was seen in previous films like Iris and The Notebook but in the hands of first-time director Sarah Polley. The melodrama that's been known for films with people dealing with diseases is thrown out of the window. Instead, Polley's 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.

Polley's husband and 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. Pinsent is truly amazing and hopefully doesn't get overlooked come Oscar time for Best Actor.

Julie Christie delivers another stellar and Oscar-worthy 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. While Christie is an icon, it's a status that she earns as she continues to be one of the best actresses ever while being an elder statewoman for the actresses that follows her.

While it's not a perfect film, Away From Her is still an amazing debut feature-film from Sarah Polley featuring two amazing performances from Julie Christie and Gordon Pinsent. Fans of Canadian cinema will no doubt consider this as one of the best films from the North with a wonderful joke from Christie about American films. Anyone who loves both Sarah Polley and Julie Christie will no doubt find this film to be worth watching. In the end, for a poignant film that is both a wonderful love story and a touching drama about Alzheimer's disease and how patients are treated with care, Away From Her is the film to go see.


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