You wouldn’t think to watch it, but “Away From Her” is written and directed by a girl not alive in 1978.
Sarah Polley shows such maturity and assuredness behind the camera that you would not be surprised to see a lengthy list of directing credits behind her. However, aside from a short film and some TV work, this is her feature debut.
And what a wonderful debut.
“Away From Her” tells the story of Fiona and Grant, and couple in love since they were eighteen. Forty Four years of marriage later they are still in love, although Fiona is slowing forgetting thing. First where the knives and forks go, but soon where she lives.
Fiona has Alzheimer's disease, and she decides to be institutionalized to ease the burden of her beloved. He reluctantly agrees and what transpires is heart breaking.
Polley never goes for the big emotional scene, the crescendo of music to entice buckets of tears, instead she goes for the reality and that makes this film all the more touching. She fully invests in her actors, a wise move.
Julie Christie is luminous in the role of Fiona. She plays her role with grace and ease. Her descent into the confusion of memory loss is played mainly in her eyes. In her eyes you see the pain and anguish, even if her face barely moves. An impeccable, if oddly hazy performance.
As the wife of a fellow patient, Olympia Dukakis has rarely been better. She shows such restraint and infuses Marian’s bitterness and anger with a desperate need.
The real star however is Gordon Pinsent. Such a shame Oscar will forget him, as this is the performance from the film that people will take with them. His quiet heart break is a thing of awe to watch. Even as he stands stoic and noble, you see his insides crumble with grief. He is damaged, yet goes on out of love.
Not much more can be said about this film that has not already been said. An assured debut for Polley. A few of the scenes perhaps needed more thought from all involved to ring true, but it still manages to pack an emotional wallop.B-