A man coping with the institutionalization of his wife because of Alzheimer's disease faces an epiphany when she transfers her affections to another man, Aubrey, a wheelchair-bound mute who also is a patient at the nursing home.
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
Writer-director Sarah Polley had intended her feature film debut to be based on a script she wrote about a 12-year-old actress starring on a television series. She was unable to get the project green lighted, and turned to another, an adaptation of one of her favorite short stories, Alice Munro's "The Bear Came Over the Mountain". The story deals with a couple in their sixties coping with the wife's Alzheimer's disease. See more »
When Fiona checks into the nursing home, she writes her husband a note telling him to go home. The note is signed 'Fona,' not 'Fiona.' See more »
It's never too late to become what you might have been.
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Remarkable debut by director Sarah Polley and yet another fascinating performance by Julie Christie
Julie Christie's combination of talent, beauty and brains has enthralled me over four decades. Nearly a decade ago, her Oscar nominated performance in "Afterglow" established that she was not a spent force while playing a gracefully aging wife of a handyman in the US. One thought that would be her best turn at geriatric impersonations.
Less than a decade later, Christie comes up with an even better performance of a woman coping with Alzheimer's disease in a debut directorial effort "Away from Her" of Canadian actress Sarah Polley. I saw the film today at the ongoing International Film Festival of Kerala, India, where Ms Christie, serving on the jury for the competition section, introduced her film thus: "It is immaterial whether you are rich or poor--we cannot predict what can happen to us. Enjoy the film with this thought." Ms Christie probably put in her best effort because the young director considers Ms Christie to be her "adoptive" mother, having worked together on three significant movie projects in five years. The film's subject brings memories of two similar films: Pierre Granier-Deferre' film "Le Chat" that won a Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival for both Jean Gabin and Simone Signoret in 1971 and Paul Mazursky's "Harry and Tonto" which won an Oscar for the lead actor Art Carney in 1974. This performance of Julie Christie ranks alongside those winners.
Today geriatric care is a growing problem. This film is a sensitive look at parting of married couples when one of them needs institutional care. Ms Polley's choice of the actor Gordon Pinsent is an intelligent one as the film relies on his narration and Mr Pinsent's deep voice provides the right measure of gravitas. Olympia Dukakis is another fine actor playing a lady who has "quit quitting". So is Michael Murphy doing a lengthy role without saying a word.
The strengths of the film are the subject, the direction, the performances and the seamless editing by the director's spouse. It is not a film that will attract young audiences who are insensitive. Yet the film has a evocative scene where a young teenager with several parts of her body pierced by rings is totally amazed by the devotion of the aging husband for his wife. So in a way the film reaches out to different age groups. Though it talks about sex, it can be safe family viewing material.
Chances are that most viewers will love the film if they are interested in films that are different from "the American films that get shown in multiplexes" to quote a character in the film. More importantly this film advertises the problem of Alzheimer's disease eloquently and artistically. It prepares you for future shocks.
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