Nepali Times
Critical Cinema
Into oblivion


"When I look away I forget what yellow means, but I can look again. Sometimes there's something delicious about oblivion." Fiona, who somehow gracefully approaches the ordeal of Alzheimer's dementia, philosophises.

She makes one-half of the couple in Sarah Polley's directorial debut Away from Her, an achingly beautiful portrait of a marriage that is remarkably successful yet injuriously flawed. It's a film that is thick yet thoughtful and deep with emotional truths.

There might be something delicious about oblivion, but there's something else altogether despairing in the experience. We begin with a depiction of a couple who have lived decades together, with the comfort and solace of long matrimony. They have afforded themselves an idyllic and quiet retirement, enjoying each other's company, and living in a cottage away from the world. That quietness and peace is disrupted when Fiona begins to show signs of Alzheimer's. In one early scene, she places a frying pan into the refrigerator, an instance that is both softly funny and terrifyingly foreboding, before her husband, Grant, returns it to its rightful place after she departs.

These small and mounting occasions lead to an episode that propels Fiona to place herself in an assisted-living facility. Just as her Alzheimer's steals away her mind, the memory of Grant's past indiscretions surfaces and colours the narrative. Some things that we wish to banish from memory can have a stubborn persistence. The thought crosses one's mind-and plagues Grant's-that all this is a plot cooked up by Fiona to punish him, especially as she takes to her fellow resident, a mute but insistent gentleman she cares for. What follows is Grant's effort to preserve his relationship with his wife, to keep the memory of what they have together alive and ultimately to keep her happy and comfortable.

Julie Christie, who plays Fiona, is the picture of grace and poise. A veritable veteran of cinema, she returns with exquisite skill and execution. When her character asks Grant how she looks, he replies "Direct and vague, sweet and ironic," perhaps teasingly, but exacting in its description of Christie's impressive performance. Gordon Pinsent, playing Grant, has a rich baritone that matches his retired professor role. He masters that seeking glance, gleaning meaning from Fiona's every pause and utterance. The pair make an intelligent and warm couple, all the more tragic for the alienation that threatens to part them. Director Sarah Polley sprightly avoids clich?s for the most part and accomplishes something that approaches perfection-a particularly impressive feat, considering she is still in her twenties while her subjects are times over older.

Away from Her is adapted by Polley from a short story by Alice Munro, and much like that other movie adapted from a piece of short fiction, Brokeback Mountain, we are given a pair of astoundingly fully-realised characters with a depth that surprises. This one, too, is also about the stubbornness and hurt of love. Love, of course, is hardly an uncommon subject for cinema. But generally our attention is drawn to lovers in their youth, when the act of loving can come so easy as opposed to the seasoned affection of a pair together for over forty years. Not often are we presented with a depiction of a couple in the later half of life, with history and habit maturing into a rich and fulfilling relationship. Sarah Polley shows us there are many lessons to be garnered from our attention to our insistence on loving and living through decades, even if she looks at it with a serious and unromantic eye.

Away from Her
Director: Sarah Polley.
Cast: Julie Christie, Gordon Pinset, Olympia Dukakis, Grace Lynn Kung.
2006. 109 min.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)