‘Away From Her’ full of Oscar noms?

Carly at the Movies column by Carl Larsen

I never would have believed that a 28-year-old writer/director, even one as talented as Sarah Polley, could have created “Away From Her,” now available on DVD and playing this month on pay-per-view. It is so well-crafted, so maturely presented, that it just cannot be ignored by the Academy Award nominating committee.

The film features Julie Christie, aging and still lovely, as a Canadian woman slipping into Alzheimer’s disease. Her husband is magnificently underplayed by Gordon Pinsent, and we follow the pair of them as she gradually worsens and enters a nursing home. Not exactly your most cheerful set-up, but it’s obvious from the start that writer/director Polley is not going to descend into one of those disease-of-the-week weepies you see on TV all the time.

Christie and Pinsent are joined in the cast by Michael Murphy and Olympia Dukakis as another couple dealing with the same problem. Murphy is a lost soul in the nursing home and mute throughout the film, while Dukakis deals with her awful caregiver situation by clinging to her wryly cynical outlook on life. Pinsent, Christie’s doggedly devoted husband, has never wanted to spend an instant away from her (hence the title) and his finely nuanced performance is perfect counterpoint in this beautifully edited and thoughtfully written story.

Both of the leads have their baggage, of course, after being married for 44 years, but they are truly and deeply in love – which makes the onset of Alzheimer’s even more devastating for both of them.

Remember “The Notebook,” back in 2004? Same heartbreaking problem. But “Away From Her” is deeper and quieter, made with more insight and understanding.

Films like this rarely get noticed by the Oscar nominators, but it has gathered a tubful of awards from film festivals and Canadian film guilds. And with a smaller film like “Little Miss Sunshine” winning last year, there’s a chance that “Away From Her” will not go entirely ignored.

It is based on “The Bear Went Over The Mountain,” a short story by prolific Canadian short-story writer Alice Munro, and flows from past to present smoothly, always in the quiet and honest tone, using silences perfectly and never playing down to the audience.

Yes, it is a story for adults that pulls no punches, adds no phony Hollywood endings, and yet engenders a subtle appreciation of our ability to adapt and survive.

Julie Christie’s career spans half a century, yet she still glows and fills the nursing home halls with her femininity. And with Pinsent patiently at her side, one must consider the casting absolutely perfect. No less, the script. And the bleak winter-in-Ontario setting only adds to the drama.

This is a rare film; a testament to our humanity as well as a chronicle of the grim ills that befall us. Serious film fans, don’t miss it.

 

Carl Larsen is a regular contributor to The New Dominion. Look for his At the Movies column on Mondays.

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