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AWAY FROM HER

Director: SARAH POLLEY

CANADA| 2006. COLOUR. DOLBY DIGITAL STEREO. 110 MIN.


As an actress, Sarah Polley’s breakthrough role was as the bus crash survivor in Atom Egoyan’s ‘The Sweet Hereafter’, but here their working collaboration resumes in a rather different guise, since this ambitious adaptation of an Alice Munro short story marks 28-year-old Polley’s feature debut as writer-director—and Egoyan’s on hand to lend his imprimatur as executive producer.

It’s certainly not the sort of film you’d expect a young woman to make, since it tells the story of a sixty-something couple driven apart by Alzheimer’s, but it announces an appreciable celluloid talent in the way it creates a sympathetic context for some wonderful actors to give of their best.

As the still-sprightly spouse befuddled by memory loss, Julie Christie is really quite extraordinary here, allowing the fog of confusion to cloud her otherwise alert features, set off these days by a skein of silver hair. Canadian actor Gordon Pinsent matches her with a heartbreaking portrait of fidelity tested against the odds, and born perhaps out of lingering guilt over past indiscretions. If she’s powerless to stop her mind slipping away, his pain is having to see her taken into care, where her new life brings its own emotional attachments, soon excluding a barely-remembered past and its decades of married life. Polley’s nimble approach never allows the material to bog down in self-pity, even wringing an element of so-painful-it’s-funny humour from the brisk, authoritarian pronouncements of Wendy Crewson’s nursing home director. The adept selection of Neil Young songs on the soundtrack provides a keening emotional undertow at just the right moments.—Trevor Johnston.

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