Away From Her

Movies
5 out of 5 stars
The setting is a dining room. Two graying couples, clearly old friends, share the intimacy of familiar stories and jokes. Bach bubbles in the air. Their hostess, Fiona (Christie), rises to refill wineglasses but suddenly the word catches in her throat. Ween? Whey? Her husband, Grant (Pinsent), breaks the silence with levity, but his concern lingers. “I think I may be beginning to disappear,” she whispers. The camera holds at a distance.

Who knew in actor Sarah Polley—a persuasive club kid in Go and zombie killer in Dawn of the Dead—lurked the directorial spirit of an up-and-coming Bergman? Away from Her is as impressive a debut as I’ve seen in years. Magnificently subtle and moving, the movie (adapted by Polley from Alice Munro’s short story “The Bear Came Over the Mountain”) takes as its subject Alzheimer’s disease. This is a little like describing Jaws as about shark fishing; the real meat of the tale, explored elliptically yet in full by two actors at their zeniths, is a marriage: a bond rocked by age, memory, infidelity.

Fiona is brought to a rather comfortable rest home, where, to Grant’s quiet chagrin, she seems to forget him. Worse, she connects with another man (Murphy). Can such material possibly be redeemed from sentimentality? Somehow Polley has done exactly that—with the enormous help of fellow Canadian Neil Young’s dreamy “Harvest Moon,” a beautiful evocation of love’s evaporation in the autumn air. Truthfully, her movie is wintry, like Pinsent’s beard. But its spirit is timeless.

By: Joshua Rothkopf

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