Among the many wonderful independent spotlight films in this year’s Florida Film Festival, “Away From Her” stands out as an exceptionally tender tale of loving, aging, and suffering with dignity. Directed by Canadian actress Sarah Polley and based on the short story “The Bear Came Over the Mountain” by Alice Munro, the movie introduces The Andersons, an aging couple married for more than 40 years. Fiona (Julie Christie) shows symptoms of progressing Alzheimer’s disease and her husband Grant (Gordon Pinsent) is faced with the difficult decision of whether or not to place her in a permanent care facility.
Grant doesn’t worry about small things like when she puts a frying pan in the freezer or can’t remember simple words such as “wine. ” When she wanders off in the snow and gets lost, however, he realizes that Fiona would be safer at Meadow Lake, an assisted living home for others like her. She encourages him to make this decision, saying that all they do is “aspire to grace” in this difficult situation. Although the facility is clean, bright, and social, Grant agonizes over the no-visitors-for-30-days rule. What will happen to her (and him) during those first 30 days?
When he returns for his first visit, Grant discovers that Fiona only vaguely seems to remember him and, even worse, has formed a close relationship with Aubrey (Michael Murphy), a mute, wheelchair-bound male patient. Fiona says that her new friend doesn’t confuse her. His silent, simple devotion is quite clear to her jumbled mind, while Grant’s frequent visits do confuse her as she doesn’t quite know who he is, but recognizes his persistence. Eventually Grant meets Aubrey’s wife (Olympia Dukakis) to discuss the strange circumstances, and they develop a bond of their own.
Because he loved her so much he never wanted to be away from her, Grant suffers from guilt and remorse for putting Fiona in a home. He also regrets earlier affairs he had while working as a professor of Iceland mythology. Grant’s realization that he is losing his wife physically, mentally, and emotionally nearly devastates him until he speaks to a kindly nurse at Meadow Lake who offers him some insights into love and marriage.
Adding a little dark humor to an otherwise somber film, Fiona still remembers Grant’s past indiscretions even when most other memories have disappeared. Brief, but frequent flashbacks of younger, happier times offer glimpses of their years before Alzheimer’s. Beautifully filmed and poignantly depicted, the characters in “Away From Her” have a loveliness and vitality that belies their advanced age.
Copyright 2007 Leslie Halpern
For more movie news and reviews visit: http://home.cfl.rr.com/lesliehalpern/leslie_halpern.htm Central Florida entertainment writer Leslie Halpern wrote the book “Reel Romance. The Lovers’ Guide to the 100 Best Date Movies” (Taylor Trade Publishing), which reviews date movies and suggests romantic ideas inspired by these films. She is also the author of “Dreams on Film: The Cinematic Struggle Between Art and Science” (McFarland & Company), an analysis of representations of sleeping and dreaming in more than 125 movies.