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Grant and Fiona Anderson have been married for forty-four years. Their marriage has been a generally happy and loving one although not perfect due to some indiscretions when Grant was working as a college professor. Fiona has just been admitted to Meadowlake, a long term care facility near their country home in southwestern Ontario, because her recent lapses of memory have been diagnosed as a probable case of Alzheimer's disease. She and Grant made this decision together, although a still lucid Fiona seems to have made peace with the decision and her diagnosis more so than Grant. With respect to the facility, what Grant has the most difficulty with are what he sees as the sadness associated with the facility's second floor - where the more advanced cases are housed - but most specifically the facility's policy of no visitors within the first thirty days of admission to allow the patient to adjust more easily to their new life there. Based on what he sees when he is finally able to ... Written by
Sarah Polley, still well under thirty, has taken one of my favourite Alice Monroe's stories and created magic with the script, casting and production of a remarkable and memorable film.
The effect is profound. You are watching actors at the peak of their craft, Julie Christie (playing Fiona Anderson), Gordon Pinsent (Grant Anderson) and Olympia Dukakis (Marian) and there is never a false move.
But beware, this is a movie for grown-ups and is reminiscent in some ways of "The Dead". Do we ever really know someone even though we have lived and breathed their air for over forty years? The tragedy and sometimes humour of Alzheimer's Disease is portrayed beautifully. The occasional lucid moments offering hope, only to be followed, often quickly, by the bafflement of the dementia.
But to focus solely on the still breathtakingly beautiful Julie and her brilliance in depicting a woman in the throes of the disease is to diminish the film as it is not only about that. It is about the secrets of the marriage, the incarceration of a loved one in a home, the despair and sometimes desperation of the spouse left operating in the outside 'real' world, the sometimes outrageous bondings of the inhabitants of the group home and the compromises reached by all.
There is much symbolism in the movie (the snow was particularly meaningful) and many wonderful, almost unnoticeable 'sidebits' - Olympia trying to pass off a store bought cookie as home-made for one - that bring this movie to wonderful heights. The attention to detail is amazing. I've visited these homes and this was real, down to the eccentric and often comically expletive-laden talk from the elderly inhabitants. Polley shows remarkable restraint in just allowing one of these eccentricities to run through the film when it might have been tempting to lay it on a little more thickly.
Though never sentimental and often humorous, the world through Grant's eyes is vividly portrayed and his anguish is palpable as he witnesses both the disintegration and re-invention of his beloved Fiona.
A heart-breaking, powerful and moving story brought beautifully to the screen. Bravo to all concerned. Oscar worthy.
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