For moviegoers, the thought of “losing” Julie Christie might simply be too much to bear. That’s why Sarah Polley’s got a devastating hook in her crystalline feature debut, Away from Her: as Christie’s Alzheimer’s-afflicted Fiona slowly slips away from her husband, Grant (Gordon Pinsent), she’s also gradually fading from us, viewers, lovers of her vivaciousness, her glamour that never overshadowed her wisdom. In fact, it’s the very mystery of Julie Christie—that actress who so enchanted moviegoers in the Sixties and Seventies with her delicately modulated brand of lush femininity and strong independence—that functions as Away from Her‘s radiating nucleus; she projects an otherworldly shrewdness even as bits of her memory disappear, and as a result we refuse to accept her mental deterioration. She fades yet remains articulate; it’s a cruel joke of nature.
The function of remembrance is an enigma in Away from Her, which plays like an Alain Resnais film writ small and domestic. In adapting Alice Munro’s short story “The Bear Came Over the Mountain,” Sarah Polley wisely expands the themes of personal memory to include collective memory, as well; though it’s essentially a love story, Away from Her is grounded in the mechanics of human interaction, thought, repression, denial, and acceptance. It’s also firmly in our world: At a crucial moment, when Fiona, already in advanced stages of Alzheimer’s, watches footage on the nightly news from Iraq, she quietly murmurs: “How could they forget Vietnam?” It’s a terribly poignant moment, connecting their world to ours and exposing memory as, at its core, selective.
Click here to read the rest of Michael Koresky’s review of Away from Her.
Then, click over to the main site to read Koresky’s Interview with Sarah Polley:
RS: I’d like to talk a bit about your approach to filmmaking, specifically in adapting this story to the screen. It seems to be about the spaces as much as the people.
SARAH POLLEY: When I first read Alice Munro’s story, I was really inspired by her description of the winter landscape. There was this great line in the story that I went back to again and again: “…the sun went down and left the sky pink over a countryside that seemed to be bound by waves of blue-edged ice.” And that image never left me. So for me the main visual component had to be what light looked like in the winter, what winter sunlight looked like reflected off of snow. And the retirement home was much like a place I had spent a lot of time with my grandmother in her last few years. I had toured a lot of these facilities in preparation for this film. And it was really strange because these places are made to seem cheery or bright, but it’s always just a little bit too much. There’s always that moment when you get a little too much natural light, and it becomes a bit oppressive.