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Remarkable debut by director Sarah Polley and yet another fascinating performance by Julie Christie
Jugu Abraham11 December 2006
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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Film of the Young Year
janos4514 May 2007
When it comes to "Away from Her," the overused, abused adjective cannot be avoided: it is a great film.

Sarah Polley's film grips, holds, moves, thrills; you will think and talk about it, remember the story and the characters indefinitely - which could well serve as a dictionary definition of "great film." All this from a 27-year-old first-time director!

You will see advertising and hear talk about "the one with Julie Christie having Alzheimer's," but that describes "Away from Her" no better than saying "Hamlet" is about a man who cannot make up his mind. Yes, Fiona, Christie's character, is in the beginning stages of Alzheimer's, but the actress - as beautiful as ever and in her greatest role here - creates a complex, full figure, with good moments and bad ones, with intelligence, warmth, carrying regrets and hurts with grace. The outstanding Canadian actor Gordon Pinsent is Grant, Fiona's loving husband for long, rich decades, albeit with their share of problems.

As the story unfolds, Grant and Fiona face the obvious, the inevitable, but for the audience, there is nothing obvious or inevitable about the way things happen. Polley's writing is Stoppardian in its complexity and brilliance - there is nothing predigested and Hollywoodish here, only life and people as infinitely complex as the human brain. Even as it deteriorates, the brain - and the film about this tragic process - retains its surprises and wonders, and to the very last scene of "Away from Her," you cannot sit back and assume you know what will happen. You don't; the film's unpredictability is one of its great assets.

Add to Polley's script (based on Alice Munro's "The Bear Came Over the Mountain") and direction, to Christie's and Pinsent's magnificent individual and ensemble acting, a cast to treasure. Olympia Dukakis and Michael Murphy play a couple whose lives unexpectedly intertwine with Grant and Fiona's. Kristen Thomson steals whole scenes from the principals as the head nurse at the institution where Fiona is placed; warm, supportive, nurturing and altogether wonderful, the nurse has one quick exchange in which she shows another side and another attitude - and this slight "glitch" makes the character even more real and sympathetic.

"Away from Her" is not a tragedy, it's a drama, which moves and uplifts. It includes charming and funny moments, but even the humor has depth. In one scene, as she is watching TV news from Iraq, Alzheimer's patient Fiona exclaims: "How could they forget Vietnam?!"
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A love like fresh snow underfoot . . .
Chris_Docker12 April 2007
I remember the last time I saw my mother. I sat on the end of her bed, strumming guitar, and singing a song she used to sing to us as children. I hoped she might remember it. She would probably not, however, recognise her son. Or even speak. She had Alzheimer's.

After self-righteous 'disease of the week' movies such as Iris, it is maybe hard to imagine a riveting, nuanced love story of depth and imagination, one centred on loss of memory, but Away From Her succeeds in spades.

Fiona (Julie Christie) has been married to Grant for 44 years. They have reached a stage of lifetime love based on deep knowledge of each other and acceptance of past misdemeanours. Then Fiona's memory starts to fail. As her Alzheimer's begins to need 24hr care, she checks in to Meadowlake residential centre. There she not only forgets who her husband is, but develops an affection for another patient – an affection that holds all the tenderness she used to share with her (now onlooking) husband.

Says Producer Simone Urdl, "The role of Alzheimer's in the film is a metaphor for how memory plays out in a long term relationship: what we chose to remember, what we choose to forget." And our ability to recall things, as Oscar Wilde pointed out, is highly selective.

Secure in the knowledge that he has given his wife many years of happiness, Grant glosses over his unfaithfulness in their younger days. But Fiona's early memories stay longer, and come back to haunt him. To bring his wife joy now, he is driven to encourage her towards that which gives him most pain.

Away From Her takes us from frozen, luminescent mise-en-scene of the couple's secure existence in snow-drenched, rural Canada, to the hand-held cameras and uncertainty that hits in Meadowlake. Excerpts from Auden's Letters From Iceland are sprinkled into the script like shards of crystalline beauty. Julie Christie, for whom the lead role was written, exudes dynamic good looks and the vibrancy of a young woman, bathed in such warmth and passion of years. When she asks Grant to make love to her before leaving, there is an urgency and scintillating sexiness about her.

Away From Her sparkles as we watch Grant walk his emotional tight-rope. The movie is made with such surety that it comes as a shock to realise the director is a first time filmmaker in her twenties. Sarah Polley evokes Bergman, as she too touches "wordless secrets only the cinema can discover." This talented young woman is highly selective in her acting roles and now, behind the camera, impresses with her insight and intelligence.

My last conversation with my mother, before she was institutionalised, or I even realised what was happening, was a long distance phone call. After chatting happily for five minutes, she said, quite chirpily and very politely, "What's your name again?" Memory is not always a two-way process. Nor objective. But, like this film, it can be mesmerising, heart-wrenching, and a remarkably intimate vision.
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Away From Julie Christie
M. J Arocena11 August 2007
The fact that Fiona - the "her" from the title - is played by Julie Christie makes the painful journey crystal clear. Julie Christie is a wonder. She manages for us,without sentimentality but with an intelligence that makes the point of the story profoundly human, to get close to the illness with sadness yes but without fear. Alzheimer's disease is like a dark tunnel that the afflicted enter without wanting to, without being able to avoid it. I've wondered what was like to be aware of it, I mean, to know that sooner rather than later you will forget everything and everyone. Sarah Polley, the director, works a little miracle here giving us Julie Christie to answer that question. I felt enormously close to Fiona's husband - a wonderful performance by Gordon Pinsent - and came out of the experience uplifted rather than depressed.
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Brilliant directorial debut!
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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Will not easily be forgotten
Joseph Belanger13 May 2007
A couple washes up after dinner. He washes while she dries. They savour the memory of the delicious dinner they just shared. They are smiling and in love after forty-four years together. In a moment of silence, he casually hands her the frying pan he has just cleaned. She dries it with her towel, walks to the freezer and puts it inside. She exits the room as if nothing out of the ordinary has just happened. All he can do is watch, if his intentions are to be sensitive. This is the context in which we are introduced to Grant and Fiona (Gordon Pinsett and Julie Christie) in the first feature film adapted and directed by Canadian actress Sarah Polley, AWAY FROM HER. Polley brings unapologetic honesty and sympathy to the lives of these two characters. After a lifetime together, they will be torn apart by Alzheimer's. Neither can do anything to stop it. He can only watch her mind disappear while she tries to enjoy the undetermined lucid time she has left. It is Polley's delicate and respectful hand that guides the viewer to see past the surface of misplaced kitchen apparel and see the longing for tenderness that is had between as it lingers longer than fading memories.

Memory comes in and out in AWAY FROM HER. With the image often filling with white and veering on blurry like a blinding snowstorm, Polley sets the tone from the start. Memory is a hazy concept. Alzheimer's is a cruel game that has Fiona having difficulty maintaining her short-term memory, like why she left the house or common words, while some of the most painful memories in her life seem like they will never be forgotten. Her story unfolds as she decides to admit herself to a retirement facility so that her husband needn't be responsible for her. This particular "home" enforces a policy where new residents are not allowed to have any contact with the loved ones they left behind for the first thirty days after they are admitted. When Grant is finally able to return to the residence, it isn't clear whether Fiona even recognizes him and worse yet, she has found comfort in the company of another man (Michael Murphy). As painful as this reality is, Polley cuts away to another time and place throughout this build, allowing us a glimpse into where Grant will end up as a result of all this change. As a result, the film feels interrupted. It is one of few mistakes made by this novice filmmaker but fortunately not one that makes the film any less painful.

Polley directs three beautifully nuanced performances from her leads. As Grant, Pinsett is bewildered, stubborn and hopeful depending on the moment. Despite all of his frustration, he is constantly searching for understanding and resolve for the memories even he has difficulty letting go of. Olympia Dukakis joins the cast as Marian, the wife of Aubrey, the man Fiona befriends in the residence. She is a tough woman, brass because she has to be. For Grant, she represents what he could have become had it been decided that he would care for his wife himself. Her life is one that was surrendered to supporting her husband through his illness, forcing personal happiness to be removed as a possibility. Naturally, given the nature of the part, it is Christie that pulls the viewer deep into a mind that is falling away. In one scene, Grant brings her home for a day. She marvels at how it was kept so well after all this time. Though the home she is seeing was her own for over twenty years, she looks on it as if it belonged to someone else. The way her eyes take in the surroundings, an environment that she should know intimately, suggests a sense of attachment intrinsically linked with a saddened detachment. She should know this place, these things, and one some level she does. She does not understand why she should feel a sense of familiarity, just that it is so. It is as though memories flood back to her but they aren't her own.

AWAY FROM HER is a fantastic first film from a talented Canadian actress with great promise as both a perceptive writer and skilled director. It is also a lesson in patience and learning to let go. Not for the viewer but for those on screen. Grant must always exercise restraint while allowing the love of his life to find solace in another man. After all, what matters most is that she be at peace. As big a task as this is, Fiona must do even more. She must accept that the life she knew is behind her and that the one ahead of her is new, necessary and one that might fade away from her as quickly as it happens to her.
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A loving film
rhh2-127 April 2007
Warning: Spoilers
I was very struck by this film. I felt the subject of Altzheimer's was handled in a dignified and loving manner that mercifully avoided sentimentality, as ultimately it was a film about people getting on with their lives - Marian and Grant moving in together, and Grant returning Aubrey to the place and the person, Fiona, that will together make him happiest whilst also giving Fiona the chance of a temporary period of recovery. Julie Christie was luminescent, with those wonderful eyes of hers increasingly speaking her joy and pain as words and memory failed her. It was also a real pleasure to see Olympia Dukakis characteristically achieving a great deal without needing to say very much at all. The focus of the film narrowed as it progressed, mimicking a characteristic of the disease.

This film ensures that anyone seeing it will learn more about the disease that is at the centre of the film as well as watching some loving exchanges between different people as the story unfolds. I hope that this film garners at least some awards, as it is worthy of being rewarded for the very real pleasure of seeing acting up there on the screen - small movements, not grand gestures, or even the wonders of CGI, which can be wonderful. No, here is sound, profound ACTING - all the more welcome as it is something that can be overlaid with so much else in many other films.
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Promising directorial debut for Sarah Polley
rasecz20 March 2007
This is a story about Alzheimer's Disease (AD), its effect on those who suffer from it, and, principally, the difficulties that it poses for relatives who see their loved one decay mentally before death. Julie Christie plays Fiona, a woman whose dementia progresses rather rapidly. Her husband, Grant, is dejected with their predicament as Fiona is moved to a specialized facility and within it between wards dealing with patients with differing levels of impairment.

The depiction of dementia through the character of Fiona and other patients around her is good but not excellent. From my, avowedly limited and not professional, experience with AD-afflicted close and distant relatives, numerous visits to a number of nursing homes -- from the fancy to the abject -- and long hours roaming the often depressing corridors of the wards observing the behavior of old folks whose minds had gone potty, I believe I picked inaccuracies in the behavior of Fiona and her fellow seniors that threw me off. It is not uncommon at the early stages of AD to think that the person may be pretending. Grant thinks that way too at first. I had to agree with him. I had trouble accepting an AD sufferer at the advanced stage of not recognizing a loved one of more than forty years still displaying a keen short-term memory capacity. Could it be that Fiona what exacting some kind of revenge on Grant past dalliances?

The depiction of nursing homes and the commentary about AD is accurate. Sarah Polley has clearly spent time visiting such places. From what I understand, she had to deal with her own mother's dementia for about five years. She has first hand experience. The only thing missing in the film, is the sometimes lackadaisical attention by bored staff you see in real life. But, who knows, Canadian senior care may be a lot better.

The story has an important additional element in the form of Marian, played superbly by Olivia Dukakis, whose husband has advanced AD. She illustrates the wrenching decisions that families face. Send the demented relative to an expensive nursing home and go broke doing so or keep the patient at home and live progressively more hellish days. That aspect of the disease jives perfectly with the shared experience of Grant and Marian as they deal with spouses that become unable to reciprocate the love they are given.

The patients at the nursing home are actors. Despite their best efforts, I found the depictions short of perfect. It is really difficult to ape exactly the tentative and struggling moves of a frail body or the glazed eyes of a lost soul who no longer can comprehend the world.

The aforementioned criticisms should be considered minor. Sarah Polley's first venture as a director shows she has what it takes. That is helped by a very good adaptation to the screen of Alice Munro's short story. Overall the casting is excellent.

Funded by the Ontario province at a cost short of C$5M and shot in that province. Don't miss it.
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So Moving and the Director is so young - Is the AMPAS bunch watching this ?
flikstik17 January 2007
Sarah Polley is under 30 and "Away From Her" is a genius project for any age of filmmaker. Wow. Just amazed at the sensitivity of the direction and the spectacular performances.

Julie Christie is so adept at convincing her audience, there wasn't a dry eye at our screening.

Gordon Pinsent and Olymia Dukakis were equally as gripping in this quiet, realistic tale.

If it doesn't get an Oscar for somebody - there is REALLY something wrong with the distribution and/or with AMPAS.

come along everyone !

Give Sarah your votes.
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A Nice Movie but a Woefully Inadequate Depiction of a Horrible Way to Die
writerasfilmcritic17 August 2008
I didn't bother to read any of the positive remarks about this movie because what the harshest critics have to say about its flawed depiction of the disease process is essentially correct and constitutes the film's most glaring flaw. It presents a woefully inadequate picture of Alzheimer's Disease, as anyone who has had to deal with it personally can well attest. I have read, however, that attachments between demented patients do occur and also that the disease brings out different aspects of the victim's personality, as one might expect -- people tending to anger in their normal lives become even more bitter and angry once they become afflicted. Similarly, naturally flirtatious or promiscuous people tend to exhibit disturbing exaggerations of that behavior, therefore, the story isn't entirely implausible, just unlikely. It is a nice movie when appreciated on its merits, alone. The main problem is that the writer and director used the disease merely as a prop to develop the plot, which didn't reflect reality convincingly.

Others have alluded to the incontinence, one of the most dehumanizing aspects of the disease, or the mental confusion and the increasing inability to speak sensibly. Another aspect is so-called short-term memory loss and its immediate effects. For example, I remember my father, a highly intelligent and purposeful man before he was diagnosed with the disease, sitting at the dinner table with his arms on his lap and banging them on the underside of the table because he forgot the table was there and he was trying to use his arms to make a gesture. He did this over and over again, each time saying, "Ouch!" then immediately forgetting that he'd just hurt himself and doing the exact same thing yet another time. It seemed to me that his arms were taking a real bruising but nothing much could be done about it. That was following the first round of serious deterioration in his mental faculties, when he seemed to be in good humor and had not yet turned bitter and angry and paranoid or become incontinent and far more confused. Just a year later, after more serious deterioration, he was dashing out of the house and running around my parents' wealthy neighborhood with his clothes put on wrong, scaring people he came across and being picked up and brought home by the police. The combination of not knowing what they are doing while knowing just enough to be both very slippery and a real danger to themselves is a very disturbing aspect of the disease. Only the wealthiest families like the Reagans can afford to keep the patient at home and hire expensive, live-in care. Most people are forced to sell the patient's home in order to afford the less-expensive care facility. Alzheimer's Disease is a terrible way to die, perhaps worse than cancer because it goes on for so long and just gets worse and worse. And these facilities, in concert with the doctors, treat the patients with powerful, potentially deleterious drugs in order to keep them under control, anxious to get them to the final stages more quickly where they are easier to manage and less likely to jump up and head for the door. In fact, the institutional staff obviously prefers them when they are further along, that is, in a wheelchair that can be parked, facing the wall for hours at a time. The loved ones of certain patients will bribe the staff members to give special (read minimal) attention to their afflicted relatives, while less fortunate patients are more or less ignored. The movie didn't adequately deal with this seamy reality, but then again, movies seldom do deal with death in a truly realistic and convincing manner. They tend to romanticize it or soft pedal it, which is what was done here.
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Don't miss this film
bzimmer-130 January 2007
I saw this film at Sundance, and was literally blown away. Away From Her is an incredible achievement for any filmmaker, and for such a young director as Sarah Polley to have made this film is amazing. If there is a God, she, Julie Christie and Gordon Pinsent will all be nominated for Academy Awards.

This film deals with a couple married for 45 years, and have never been away from each other. As Julie Christie's character realizes that she is losing her memory, she makes plans to enter a clinic, from which she knows she will not return from, and her husband does not want her to be "away from her." In a few of the scenes in which her memory has reverted to the past, you find out that their marriage was not perfect, as she brings up events from the past that caused both of them pain.

Bring tissues and ladies- make sure you've got waterproof mascara on.
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Julie Christie's face
Danielle De Colombie9 February 2008
Everything about Julie Christie is different, it always was. So, there shouldn't come as a big surprise that she has recruited her age as a great allied. To say that she glows and that she's as beautiful as ever seems idiotic and banal, but the fact is that she glows and that she's as beautiful as ever. Then, as an actress, she continues to grow and to surprise us. The idea of losing one's memory its a devastating blow and to see that awareness in Julie Christie's face made it doubly so. I understand better the illness I feel nearer to its sufferers. It is extraordinary that for people of my generation - I was born in 1958 - Julie Christie was a sort of symbol. To see the newer generations fall in love with her and not only in her old movies but in her new ones, it's the most marvelous reassuring feeling in the world.
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Christie and Pinsent give Oscar worthy performances in a sterling drama ; a remarkable film-making debut by Polley.
george.schmidt14 May 2007
Warning: Spoilers
AWAY FROM HER (2007) **** Julie Christie, Gordon Pinsent, Olympia Dukakis, Michael Murphy, Kristen Thomson, Wendy Crewson, Alberta Watson, Katie Boland. (Dir: Sarah Polley)

Christie and Pinsent give Oscar worthy performances in a sterling drama ; a remarkable film-making debut by Polley.

Actress Sarah Polley makes an audacious and remarkable film-making debut in her adaptation of Alice Munro's short story "The Bar Came Over the Mountain" with its storyline about an aging married couple's plight when Alzheimer's strikes the wife, Fiona (the gorgeous Christie giving a dynamic performance), who decides in its earliest stages to have herself placed into a health care institutional home to care for her while her loving husband Grant (veteran actor Pinsent, equally compellingly good) is hesitant; the couple have never been apart in 43 years and the trial period of 30 days for Fiona to get acclimated to her new environs, proves taxing particularly for Grant.

The couple have been very active over the years and Fiona is considered a real 'lady' who knows quite a bit in relation to culture, the finer things and her husband's philandering past.

Grant fears she may be using her dementia as a crutch to punish him for his improprieties and also fears he may be losing her altogether: their marriage a shadowy afterthought in the cobwebs of her dimming memory.

To add insult to injury when Grant finally arrives after his month's probationary period to visit, he finds Fiona has begun to slip further away and has struck a new friendship with another patient, the mute Aubrey (veteran character actor Murphy who communicates amazingly with subtle eye and facial movements to convey his sadness) who she claims to have known in the past. His wife Marian (the incomparable Dukakis) tries to do the best she can with her spouse but accepts the limitations involved and strikes up a friendship with Grant as well.

Polley, an accomplished young Canadian actress best known for her indie work such as "THE SWEET HEREAFTER" and the remake of "DAWN OF THE DEAD", makes a stunningly astute and heartfelt directorial debut (she also wrote the screenplay adaptation) with remarkable élan, grace and class. Reportedly the short story which appeared in THE NEW YORKER affected her so deeply - (her late grandmother was in a retirement community and her grandfather had a similar condition known as Picks' disease)- she sought out Christie, who she previously co-starred with her in Hal Hartley's "NO SUCH THING" (this marks her third collaboration with the iconic actress), who at first was very hesitant but, wisely , acquiesced, with her excellently executed turn as Fiona, a woman who clearly has a lot to live for and fight for and makes it all the worth while with her sharp chemistry with Pinsent (who I must admit never heard of before but is also an actor of reckoning), whose quiet, introspective yet deeply felt performance and his rich baritone nicely compliment his co-star making you believe they indeed have been a couple for many years.

While the film is powerfully acted and directed it is surprisingly not a melancholic syrupy hazy account nor is it a sugar-coated valentine to love's healing powers. It is a frank, adult and very human depiction of one couple's attempt to grow in a seemingly unfortunate fate yet with humor, intelligence and truly mature viewpoint. One of the year's best films and one that should not be overlooked for next year's Oscars for all its major categories.
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Give me a break -- this is one of the most unrealistic films I have ever seen!
gopads0817 February 2008
Because the reviews of this film have been so overwhelmingly positive, I was reluctant to post a comment, but after reading others' raves I can only conclude that none of these people has had any serious, first-hand experience with Alzheimer's Disease.

My mother has suffered from Alzheimer's for 14 horrible years, and my mother-in-law had it for about that long before passing away. In both cases, I watched as the disease progressed from early warning signs to the near-total dementia that necessitated admission to a facility; I admitted my mom just a few months ago. To say that I have a lot of first-hand knowledge and experience as a caregiver and as a witness to the ravages of Alzheimer's is an understatement. Therefore, I have to say that I found this film so unrealistic that my husband and I were shaking our heads through much of the poorly written dialogue and actually LAUGHING out loud many times at things that definitely were not intended to be funny.

Everyone is heaping kudos on 27-year-old writer/director Polley, but I found her inexperience and naivete regarding the subject matter glaringly obvious. Julie Christie's character was WAY too self-aware -- nobody with Alzheimer's would say many of the things she did, nor would they willingly be skipping off to an Assisted Living facility/nursing home when there is no apparent need for her to go there for some time, perhaps years.

And speaking of the facility, I have toured a lot of them, and I can promise you the scenes depicted in this film are not the norm. Never is the always-at-the-ready Executive Director there at the door to greet you and take you to your loved one. You're lucky if you get a "hello" grumbled in your general direction -- that is, if they have any idea who you are or who your loved one is. And the head nurse/caregiver who seems to have all the time in the world to sit and chat -- and most unbelievably, to pass judgment on the husband for past indiscretions that she's somehow gleaned from his cryptic comments -- is completely absurd. It's unusual to find a caregiver who speaks English, much less one who could be a psychologist/marriage counselor in her nonexistent spare time.

I really, honestly wanted to like this film and I absolutely love Julie Christie and Olympia Dukakis, but I was so very disappointed. And while I can't imagine Julie Christie winning an Oscar for a role that is so poorly conceived and written, I would give one to the makeup/hair stylist. I have never seen anyone with Alzheimer's look one-millionth as good as she did, and that flight of fancy alone is worthy of some serious Academy love.
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A real disappointment
weisser-226 May 2007
Unlike virtually everyone here, I did not like or admire this movie. I thought it was pretentious, unreal, stiff and awkward. Yes, Julie Christie was terrific with impossibly self-conscious material, but that didn't help much. The characters feel like cardboard creatures there to make a point. We don't even know what their marriage was like, with the one exception that he had affairs -- that's it.

As the daughter of a woman hospitalized with Alzheimers for ten years until her death, I can tell you from observing my mother and everyone around her that there are too many silly false notes to even detail here. Just for one, the idea that the woman is so far advanced that she is putting frying pans in the freezer, yet has the linguistic and cognitive skills to say "All we can aspire to is grace and dignity" is beyond ridiculous. No film I've ever seen, this one included, has the courage to show what really happens -- the loss of thinking, language, personality, desire to shower and dress, the insistent repetitions or cursing or anger, etc. It isn't a pretty picture, like the one glamorized here, as if you need the warm fuzzy glow ("Let's make love before you leave!") to mist over. What really infuriates me is how over-the-top everyone has praised this because it's so "beautiful."
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Tedious at best.
Psalm 5227 January 2008
Warning: Spoilers
As the once-secular, but caring adult son of an elderly parent who suffered from Multi-Infract Dementia and was called Home by the Lord, I had a lot of personal expectations for this critically-lauded, indie feature film. The oh-so-rich-for-exploration subject of Alzheimer illness is relegated to a foggy, back story here, as the focus instead is on some seniors getting it on w/ each other. This is the best material Ms. Polley can write on the possibilities-rich subject of Death and Faith? The story deserves better moral exploration and values-focused presentation. Why is it that recent feature films mildly addressing Dementia (The Notebook and this film) center around luminous elegant upper-class white women afforded the best nursing home accommodations? Placing an elderly parent in a nursing home is a costly venture and of the many facilities I visited NONE comes close to the set design glory exhibited here... the staff hasn't a care in the world (or a diaper to change) other than to have deep, meaningful conversations w/ the resident's family members. Real life isn't close to like that, just reel life is. The Fiona character goes down as the first Alzheimer victim willingly placing herself into a nursing home! Ask any family member who has had to place a loved one suffering from Dementia into a nursing home and the task is not remotely easy. 'Away from Her' could have gone so much farther in relating the pains, sufferings, and trials of the victims, and family members, of Dementia.
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Great Acting, poor screenplay
jackjack-29 March 2009
It is often said that a picture is worth a 1000 words. In some ways that is true about this movie, and in other ways it is not.

For those unfamiliar with Alzheimer Disease (AD), it was educational. For anyone who has had to care for a close relative afflicted with Alzheimer Disease or Parkinson's Disease, the movie depicted the hopelessness one feels when having to care for the afflicted persons, who know how devastating these diseases are, and for which there is no cure. In this sense the picture is worth a 1000 words but the picture distorts time in that the progressive deterioration caused by AD takes place over a period of several years while in the picture it happens in a period of about four months.

The screenplay begins and ends in a winter. There are no other seasons depicted. It may have been that because the film was shot on a tight budget, which did not allow the filming to include the other seasons, and that may be why the time line was so unreal.

This screenplay written by Sarah Polley was based on a short story "The Bear Came Over the Mountain" by Alice Munro, published in the New Yorker Magazine in December 27, 1999. Unfortunately, Polley butchered the story, which was tightly written and very interesting, and for this she was unjustly nominated for an Academy Award. She also did a horrible job directing the picture, One can read the short story in about 15 minutes. The movie lasts 110 minutes and yet leaves out some of the most important parts of the short story so that the viewer never knows the complete story and it makes the movie disjointed. Polley often uses quotes from the short story in the screenplay but they lose their meaning when the material from the story on which the quotes are based is omitted. For example, the dialog that ends both the movie and the short story, was based on events that occurred earlier in the marriage between Fiona (Julie Christie) and her husband Grant Anderson (Gordon Pinsett) which were vaguely alluded to in the movie but much more explicitly detail in the story. Thus, the conclusion lacks any punch. It was the same earlier events which set up a discussion between a nurse (Kristy) at the nursing home and Grant, in which she tries to explain the close relationship between his wife and Audrey, another elderly patient at the nursing home. If one had read the story, the explanation had real meaning but in the context of the movie in which the material supporting the explanation was omitted, it had little impact.

Making the movie harder to follow was the decision to use flashbacks, jumping back and forth between a conversation Grant had with Marian and other parts of the story, leaving the viewer disjointed and confused. Flashbacks would have been more effective had they been used to tell about earlier events between Grant and Fiona that set up the story as was done in the short story.

There are also two sex scenes in the movie that were not in the short story. The first is unreal and the second one detracts from the whole theme of the story which is Grant's absolute devotion to Fiona at the stage of their marriage. It really detracted from the secondary message which depicted AD. It was "off message."

The movie has a very confusing ending which leaves a viewer bewildered. It left too many loose ends. It leaves the characters (and the viewers) in a predicament. The predicament was in part a result of a gratuitous sex scene, and partly because much of the last part of the movie was a gross departure from the short story so that the movie ending made no sense at all. Had not. The parts of the short story Polley chose to omit could have been included in the screenplay without lengthening the movie had not Polley wasted so much time on meaningless diversions from the short story.

Another problem with the movie is that the nursing home is rather luxurious. It is not the type of nursing home that one would find for patients with ordinary income. Grant and Fiona were not wealthy. Grant was a retired professor who was forced to retire early on a reduced income and they lived in a home that Fiona's parents had left Fiona. So there was no explanation as to how Grant was able to afford the cost. Yet we know that it was expensive because Marian, the wife of Audrey, who Fiona befriended, took Audrey out of the nursing home because of the high cost.

While Polley used much of the dialog from the short story, she added some of her own. At one point Grant meets Marian, the wife of Audrey. When they departed in the movie, Marian says to herself, "What a jerk!" referring to Grant. That is not what happened in the short story. When he departed he felt depressed that he had not succeeded in persuading Marian to send Audrey back to the nursing home and he said to himself "What a jerk, she would be thinking now." In the short story, that ended his relationship with Marian but that is not what happened in the movie. What followed in the movie ruined the movie.

That does not take away from the superb acting performances of both Julie Christie and Gordon Pinsett, which for no other reason, makes the movie worthwhile watching. It is unfortunate that Sarah Polley did such a miserable job writing the script and directing the movie so that a 1000 pictures were not worth the last three words which are the essence of the story. Which proves that film making often is unable to project the power of the written word.
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kosmasp18 August 2010
This is one of the best dramas I have seen. And it is a testament to the director (she isn't only beautiful and a good actress, she also has a real good sense and taste for a story) and of course the actors. With the weight of the actors and the way they play their roles, you get entirely sucked into the movie. Which of course is a good thing. You can't call this entertainment on the other hand, if you see the heavy subject on hand here.

But with a movie like that you should be expecting it to be a heavy drama. I'm not going to go into details of the story, hoping for you to go into this, with as little information as possible, so you are surprised by a few things (and see them as the main characters and not know them before-hand). It plays to your emotions and you'd have to have a heart of stone not to be touched at some point in/during the movie. I can only recommend this ...
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AWAY FROM HER (Sarah Polley, 2006) ***
MARIO GAUCI23 February 2008
I'm not usually one to watch films dealing with diseases of any type – believing them to be maudlin, manipulative and even somewhat morbid – much less mental illness, but since this is expected to earn Julie Christie another Oscar (which would probably make it the longest gap between the first and second win), I decided to check it out in time for the upcoming awards ceremony.

Christie's character has been struck with the debilitating Alzheimer's Disease but, thankfully, she – or, more precisely, writer-director Polley (a likable actress in her own right, though not appearing here herself) – doesn't bemoan her fate; rather, she accepts it with grace and even treats the condition with mild humor (which is the way these things should be approached but, I guess, one has to really be going through them himself to really know). Incidentally, I find extremely silly and unwarranted the recent warning by some hysterical group when, in her acceptance speech at the SAG awards, Christie joked that if she forgot the name of anyone it's because she was still in character!

The film is undeniably moving as we see the aging heroine degenerating to the point that she can't even recognize her own devoted husband (Gordon Pinsent) and even attaches herself to a fellow patient (Michael Murphy) at the clinic to which she's eventually admitted. Ironically, considering the accolades showered upon Christie, I feel that it's Pinsent who's the real protagonist here: quietly despairing yet brave in coping with the heartbreaking situation (unsurprisingly, he strikes up a friendship with Murphy's own wife – played by Olympia Dukakis). On the other hand, the viewpoint of the younger generation (obligatory in our zealously-PC world) is present here – though in a somewhat idealistic manner, if you ask me – via a teenager who chats with Pinsent during one of his visits to the clinic (and, in a deleted sequence, is revealed to be a neighbor of Dukakis and occasionally takes care of Murphy for her).

Actually, this isn't the kind of film one would expect an emerging young director to make – particularly since it has aspirations of being a Bergman-like chamber drama which, while fairly compelling and austere (aided with respect to the latter by the snowy Canadian setting), clearly lacks the necessary depth which a master craftsman would otherwise bring to such material.
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Like The Notebook, except for adults
zetes14 May 2007
This film feels like actress Sarah Polley saw The Notebook and said to herself, "I could make a better movie than that." And that's what she did. Based on an Alice Munro short story, this follows an elderly man, Grant (Gordon Pinsent), whose wife, Fiona (Julie Christie) is suffering from Alzheimer's. He realizes that he cannot care for her alone, so they decide together that she must enter a nursing home. The establishment they choose has a policy that new residents cannot have visitors for a whole month (it helps both the patients and the staff cope with the change). When Gordon is finally allowed to visit, he finds his wife has forgotten him and has become involved emotionally with another man (Michael Murphy). It sounds heartbreaking, and it is, but the film isn't a tragedy. It's a love story, one of the most beautiful I've seen in a long while. It's incredibly observant about human life, and it mostly remains very subtle. Sarah Polley is, if you don't recognize the name, the girl from Atom Egoyan's films The Sweet Hereafter and Exotica. Now 28, she directs with more confidence than any of the directors nominated for Best Picture this past year. She stumbles a few times, especially early on when establishing Christie's disease, but never fatally. The acting is probably the main draw. If you're a Christie fan, don't miss this. However, Gordon Pinsent does the real heavy lifting. He's a mostly unknown character actor (a lot of television, stage, and, if you see the film it won't surprise you, voice acting), but for this he deserves to be remembered for a very long time. What a fantastic performance he gives. Also great are Olympia Dukakis (as Murphy's wife) and Kristen Thomson (as a nurse sympathetic to Grant's pain). As an Altman fanatic, I love Micheal Murphy. Unfortunately he is given almost nothing to do. Too bad this was released too early for the Academy Awards. Christie could have easily gotten in as the aging legend, and at the very least it would have gotten more people to go see it. If you can't catch it now, keep an eye out for the DVD.
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Stop the PRESSES!!
slooo127 June 2007
Warning: Spoilers
First things first: Thank you Fresh Air and Terry Gross for having Sarah Polley on a while back. Without that I would have never heard of this wonderful film.

During that interview Ms. Polley indicated Julie Christie had disclosed she has memory issues. So this role was sort of an ironic choice.

Ms. Christie, who is so beautiful here that it the poor actress who plays her as a younger woman pales by comparison, is the consummate actor. After you get over how amazing she looks, you soon forget this and sink into the part of Fiona. She's so much wiser and grounded than her husband (played with depth and clarity by Gordon Pinsent). So as her mind begins to go, she is the one who steelingly pushes for her hospitalization.

And while the outline of the plot can sound like a made-for-Lifetime movie, this is one of those movies that literally leaves you with your heart in your hand. It doesn't hand you the 'moral' and the final scene, which devastates without being obnoxious, reminds all of us that this disease is so insidious.

I lost several caregivers to this disease.

I remember sitting with my Aunt Nod and watching as her perception of me rotated between being myself to being her grandson to being her son to being my long dead grandfather and then my biological father then back to me again. After nearly an hour of this I told her goodbye and her son and I went outside. It was heartbreaking. Twice she referred to me as being dead (a belief based on my being taken away from her care when I was a child). That was the last time I saw her. She entered a home the next week and died not long after.

So this film affected me a bit more than some. But my best friend, whom I've never seen cry, was so affected by the simple message of love and loss that he actually started crying after the film was over.

I'm sure there are going to be some who dig their heals in and complain about this or that. But while this isn't perfection, it is an amazing movie.

Ms. Christie (who abhors celebrity and the commodification of talent) had better get our one of her vintage gowns out of storage, because she's gonna be at the Oscars this coming year.
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Not a better dramatic introduction to the challenges of Alzheimer's
jdesando11 May 2007
Forget 66year old Julie Christie's Breck Hair and young woman figure; ignore her still luminous blue eyes and creamy, so-what creased face. The real star here is Alzheimer's Disease, the thief slowly stealing the heart from a 44 year marriage. Christie's Fiona must go to a nursing home before her disease "progresses." Gordon Pinsent's former college professor Grant reluctantly lets her go.

It's not exactly One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest in there, but romance does evolve, such as Fiona's with Michael Murphy's Aubrey (art nouveau's Beardsley I'd guess as the artistic allusion). What's a husband to do? In the best Bergman tradition, young director/actress Sarah Polley moves the plot and camera slowly, peppering it with nuanced twists that satisfy our dramatic interests but leave plenty of room for the meaning-of–life philosophies.

Polley and her source, Alice Munro, succeeds with the thesis that adults need to be given freedom to be who they are at the place they are in their lives. Life for Fiona begins again with tending to Aubrey while Grant stews thinking she may be paying him back for his affairs with students. Maybe so, but Christie's acting is so good (Oscar –worthy) that she clearly seems to be in the thrall of Alzheimer's yet lucid enough to remember those indiscretions. Such is the mercurial nature of the disease that long-term memory may linger while-short term is a victim.

K. D. Lang singing Neil Young's Helpless is an inspired touch for the denouement of this beautiful romance. I don't think there could be a better dramatic introduction to the challenges of Alzheimer's than Away From Her.
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Lapses portrying Alzheimer
Carlos WA17 May 2007
A well made movies with excellent acting. The love story is intriguing and touching.

Regarding the Alzheimer disease I noticed the following lapses: A person with Alzheimer is unlikely to accept having the disease and agree to go to a nursing home.

It is unlikely that the person in the stage of Alzheimer implied in the movie would forget a spouse in 30 days.

A person with Alzheimer will have frequent nasty altercations with the caregiver. We see none of these in the movie.

It would take years for Alzheimer to progress from the moderate to medium stage implied in the movie to the advanced stage that requires moving her to the second floor (increased care). The movie seems to imply that this happens in a few months since the movie begins in the Winter and finishes in the Spring.
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Hard to Watch
DrGlitterhouse3 June 2007
Warning: Spoilers
"Away from Her" definitely has a sense of place and a "realness" about it. Gordon Pinsent and Julie Christie play a retired college professor and his wife who have to cope with the onset of her Alzheimer's Disease. Eventually, they decide to move her into a rest home, where she seems to be drawn to another patient, almost to the neglect of her husband.

The movie is definitely set in Canada – not Canada standing in for some part of the United States, whether named or unnamed, but Canada. And in contrast to a Hollywood movie I saw the same night, the cars have dirt on them. Aside from the pain of watching a loved one's mind slip away, which, unfortunately, is a very relateable situation, the disjointed narrative technique that writer/director Sarah Polley uses is at first a little distracting. The scenes of Gordon Pinsent looking for an address eventually bear fruit, but the payoff is a long time coming.

It's good to see a film attempt to tackle a serious subject maturely, but it's not the easiest viewing.
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Independent and artsy this is basically a twisted love story
Robert W.21 May 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Away From Her is gaining some huge notoriety and critical acclaim and I can't say I'm surprised. Not because I agree but because it reeks of artistry, purposeful directing to try and make a beautiful image of something that will move people rather than directly entertain them. My hate goes off to newcomer, and very young Canadian director Sarah Polley for taking on this kind of content and coming out on the other side with rave reviews but for myself personally it didn't move me as much as kind of disgust me in a way. The film was slow moving, a snail's pace, a little confusing with the chronological order and no instructions on how to follow it and it went on far longer than it needed to. That being said there is some powerful performances that I absolutely adored and honestly made the film for me. Otherwise I was rather disturbed by the fact that anyone could be moved or romanced by the film which features a couple who is supposed to be 'madly in love' having been married for forty years but the husband has had an affair, and then moves on to sleep with another woman which is 'okay' because his wife has Alzheimer's and has taken to another man. There is nothing sweet or romantic about the film and in fact is more confusing and rather odd romantically than anything. Rather than being about a man dealing with his wife's increasing Alzheimer's, it's about relationships between four aging people thrown together because of Alzheimer's.

I've seen some reviewers and spoke to some people who were just impressed with Gordon Pinsent. I couldn't disagree more!! I think Pinsent's performance as husband Grant was powerfully subtle and he did so much performing with his eyes and his movements and I became an instant Pinsent fan. He is terrific despite the fact that I didn't like his character after discovering he had cheated on this woman that he adores so much and sleeps with another woman after that. Still his performance was great. Julie Christie absolutely stunning on screen, at 67 years old she was absolutely beautiful as the ailing wife Fiona. Christie does a magnificent job of showing us what Fiona has been like her whole life in a short amount of time and then what it would be like to watch her succumb to the ravages of the disease. Christie as Fiona is strong and brilliant, a sweet soul and independent and we watch her go into this delicate, emotionally distraught woman suffering from Alzheimer's. Olympia Dukakis plays a small role as the wife of a man suffering from a debilitating disease that leaves him mute and crippled. Dukakis is fiery and strong but shows a softer side as her character unravels. Michael Murphy plays the muted husband Aubrey who falls in love with Fiona in their retirement home leaving their spouses at the sidelines. Murphy has a tough role to play doing everything with his body language and eyes but he does a great job of almost coming across as an adversary to Pinsent's Grant. Kristen Thomson turns in a small but very memorable role as Fiona's nurse Kristy who befriends Grant in his time of turmoil. I enjoyed her character and thought she was very interesting and a good solid performance. Wendy Crewson was also notable as the rather hard headed and stern head of the retirement home Madeleine.

A superb Canadian cast to say the least with a terrific Canadian director performing a story by a classic Canadian Author. There isn't anything wrong with any of this and the Canadian content is clear and concise and it's worth seeing. The only shortcoming is it's length and it's misrepresentation as a story about a man dealing with loss of his wife whom he loves dearly, to Alzheimer's. This is a far more twisted love story and if this is a realistic portrayal of the way love and marriage and dedication is handled than I am saddened and very afraid for us. I encourage adults to check this one out and see if you agree with me or not?? I was also not fond of the fact that the script to see to force in the "F" word on several occasions and only the "F" word for no other reason then for it to exist. It isn't often a film is made with older actors as the main character portraying themselves as older citizens so I encourage anyone to check it out. But it's slow and it's content might surprise you. I don't think it quite deserves all the hoopla surrounding it. 6/10
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