Thursday, August 07, 2008

Away From Her

2007, Canada, directed by Sarah Polley

In many debut films the director seems to throw every trick into the mix first time out, as if there'll never be another chance, with the unfortunate result that the story frequently gets lost in the process. Sarah Polley, though, has far more confidence in her material, and in her own ability to unfold the ties between her characters, never departing from a calm, almost hypnotic style that allows real - rather than paper - people to emerge as she narrates the story of a woman (Julie Christie) dealing with the onset of Alzheimer's disease.

While she doesn't sugar-coat the realities of the disease - particularly from the perspective of those forced to watch a loved one slowly disappear - Polley chooses not to depict Alzheimer's as simply a decline: instead, Fiona's illness becomes a revelatory experience, unveiling the depths of her love toward the man (Gordon Pinsent) with whom she has spent her life, despite his flaws, and in turns the lengths to which he is prepared to go to ensure his wife's continued happiness, even as his connection with her seems to slip.

It's extraordinary to realize just how young the director is, given her acute ability to portray the small transactions that regulate the lives of this long-married couple; her depiction, particularly, of the ways in which Fiona allows her husband to understand how she has come to terms with his behaviour is tender yet utterly unsentimental, as though her disease makes honesty not just possible but essential.

Christie has one of those extraordinary faces that seems to develop a new radiance with age; every moment she's on the screen, your eyes are drawn to her, while she moves and speaks with a quiet, dignified grace that has an unmistakable edge of steel. As her husband, Gordon Pinsent is a fine match for her, a man who looks as though he's been hewn from the Canadian wilds, but who is also, despite his mistakes, possessed of acute intelligence and sensitivity. It's a fine performance from an actor who has rarely had the opportunity to shine.

1 comment:

Lesley said...

Ugh... I adored this movie. So much beauty in so much pain... And Julie Christie is so angelic, isn't she?

I've loved Sarah Polley ever since she played Ramona Quimby on PBS, back when I was in elementary school... and now I love her even more. :)


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