Monday, May 21, 2007

Film Review: "Away From Her"

I wanted to like the film. I truly did. I read the reviews. A lot of others reviewers liked the film. It was made in Canada. I like Canada. It was made with wonderful, multi-talented and experienced people. I like all of that. And I am simpatico with the topic/theme of the piece: dealing with Alzheimer's.

However I found the film's execution of that topic illustrative, not dramatic; it was empathetic, but not sympathetic. (To elicit my sympathy characters must fight their destiny. Even death should be fought against to create sympathy; why not Alzheimer's?)

'Fiona', played by Julie Christie, is manifesting the signs of early Alzheimer's disease. She is only 62, but already she is forgetting; worse, she is wandering away from the house by herself and has to be tracked down by husband. A bright, intelligent, realistic and proud woman, she decides it is time for assisted least or until (hopefully) she improves. Her husband will he live without her; especially given his guilt: thirty years before he was, when a professor, he was a serial philanderer (with his students)? Does he--did he ever--really love her?

She wins out: and enters an assisted living home...where they must accept, in the first thirty days, enforced parting; no visiting. (The rules of the house: he is not allowed to visit her the first thirty days, to help her get acclimated to her new environment.) During that time she--by my reckoning a little too soon and a lot too conveniently--falls in love with an old man patient (played silently and nicely by Michael Murphy). She maintains she has known him before--a brief period of love when they were young--but the question remains open: is that love a real 'memory' just part of her Alzheimer's condition?

The husband, played by Gordan Pinsent--once the post-thirty days visits are allowed--visits and visits and visits,and experiences long, torturous feelings of loss: Julie is more interested in Michael than the husband.

Intermittently, Jordon visits the home of the Michael's wife (played by Olympia Dukakis). They sit and talk (and later fool around) during cross-cut scenes sprinkled among the scenes of the husband's visits to his wife. He watches (1) his wife's deterioration (forgetting him) and (2) her puppy-like attraction to the new man. At one point he muses with the home's #1 nurse (played sympathetically by Kristen Thomson): is his wife's actions vis-a-vis the 'new lover' a manifestation of Alzheimer's or a long delayed punishment for his old playing-around days?

Unfortunately, there is somewhat of a plot turn here: what starts as a serious, sensitive and simple depiction of Alzheimer's and its effect on both the victim and the loved one, turns into a love triangle (rectangle?) that seems almost 'soapy': while it is still delicate and sensitive in style, it is also slow and somewhat predictable. I won't tell you the ending. It works too had to be suddenly unpredictable--and turns out in my mind to be a cheat: an unresolved ending.

The movie was written and directed by Sarah Polley, a young and talented Canadian actress and writer. In my estimate, the writer failed the young director. While some of the scenes are beautifully shot (winter as a bleak cold landscape mirroring the bleakness of Alzheimer's is particularly filmically exploited), the actors (whom most critics will love with but I did not) struggle against the inertia and passivity of the story; either slipping into mournful self-pity, albeit Scandinavian Bergman style (Christie and especially Pinsent) or get caught up in acting-qua-acting (Dukakis, along with Thomson and Wendy Crewson; another usually fine actor, who plays the director of the assisted living home).

I got the feeling the director Ms. Jolley capitulated to the writer Ms. Jolley that she led--or allowed--the actors into playing the overall 'meaningfulness' of the story and situation--rather than letting the story establish the meaning itself. Beware the thing you love: it can lead you to self-indulgence).

I have to admit, I saw the film on an overcast day, at 1:30 in the afternoon; at matinee prices. That might have negatively affected me. (Context can be everything, after all.) However, I've seen some of my favorite films at that time of day; and at cheaper prices. No; the context was not a contributory factor. My sense of aesthetics were. Let me simply applaud the filmmakers for tackling such an important topic in such a loving and talented way; and offer this idiosyncratic support: may everyone who reads this review call me stupid and flock to this decent yet very flawed film.


Post a Comment

<< Home