Thursday, April 26, 2007

Away from Her

Poster for Away from Her; photo by Val Phoenixdir Sarah Polley

Adapted by writer/dir Polley from an Alice Munro short story, this Canadian feature stars Julie Christie as Fiona, a woman succumbing to Alzheimer's while Gordon Pinsent co-stars as her husband Grant who is slowly frozen out of her life as the illness takes over.

Set in a wintry Ontario town, the film contrasts the couple's life together in a remote cottage with the clinical setting of Meadowlake, a care home for Alzheimer's patients. The story is told from Grant's point of view, observing her as she forgets who he is once she is admitted to Meadowlake. With his wolfish features, Pinsent is excellent as the doting husband with a hint of raffishness.

Christie is stunning, the camera often holding in close-up on her startling blue eyes. Her character is multi-faceted, unable to recall the way home when she goes out skiing and yet sharp as a tack in reminding her husband of "the things we don't talk about", namely his flings with nubile co-eds during their 44 years of marriage.

This latter scene, which occurs as he drives her to be admitted to Meadowlake, is absolutely key, because it shows the balance of power in their marriage and it also allows her to dictate the terms under which she is admitted. It is her decision to go. During their farewell, she comforts him. Then, she tells him she wants him to make love to her and then leave. Once 30 days have elapsed, she is allowed visitors but when Grant returns she doesn't seem to recognise him. Instead, she has formed an attachment with another patient, Aubrey, displacing Grant, who suspects she may be punishing him for his failings.

This possibility adds an element of mystery to the story, which is complicated by Grant subsequently seeking out Aubrey's wife (a hawkish Olympia Dukakis) and forming a relationship with her. Is this opportunism on his part? Does he want Aubrey and Fiona to stay together so that he can assuage his guilt at cheating on her? The ending leaves this unclear but the film is gripping, charting an unusual love triangle and then quadrangle.

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