Jump to content

Away From Her (2006)


Christian
 Share

Recommended Posts

This film is already out in select markets, but it doesn't open in D.C. until tomorrow, before broadening out further in the weeks to come.

You've probably read a thing or two about Julie Christie's performance in this movie. It's extraordinary. She's nearly absent for the second half of the movie, which focuses on her husband, but while she's on screen, she's luminescent. The other actors are great as well, but Christie is so brilliant that the movie suffers when she's not on screen -- it becomes merely good, rather than great.

The film is not particularly cinematic. It'll be labeled by some as a TV movie-of-the-week, another character drama about a terminal illness. But actors in most TV movies just don't show the acting chops that big-screen actors do. This one is well worth seeking out during its theatrical run.

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...
  • Replies 58
  • Created
  • Last Reply

Top Posters In This Topic

Sarah Polley. (For the search engine's sake.)

Link to the spin-off thread on 'Married Couples and Mental Illness'.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Second best film I've seen this weekend, but since the other is Waitress, that's not very limiting.

Excellent film. Atom Egoyan's (he's an exec. producer) influence is very visible -- same sort of Canadian countryside and very similar pacing.

The almost constant winter makes what would usually be a very long progression of the disease into a matter of a months, but that's sort of necessary to tell the story. Really not so much about the disease (as in Iris), rather about the frustration and desperation of the husband who is losing his wife to the disease.

(I did search before starting the other thread.)

Edited by Darrel Manson
A foreign movie can't be stupid.

-from the film
Armin

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 3 weeks later...

Go see it.

Julie Christie is extraordinary, Oscar-worthy even.

But she's getting all the attention. What about Gordon Pinsent? He's excellent in a powerfully understated, restrained performance. Where did this guy come from? I'm reading his IMDB page right now, and the guy has been around forever, but somehow I've never really noticed him. (For some reason, The Shipping News just doesn't stick in my memory as a film.) His ability to convey deep emotion with very little alteration in his expression are remarkable. He reminds me of Jean-Louis Trintignant in Three Colors: Red. Kieslowski's influence is clear here, just as Egoyan's is.

Don't let this one get away. It's a beautiful short story. Polley relies a little too heavily on Iceland as a metaphor. And the film's perspective on fidelity is rather frustrating in the end. But Polley's talent is undeniable, and to think that this is just the beginning of her career... she'll be as interesting to watch as Sofia Coppola, or moreso.

When was the last time we saw a film that focused so tenderly, realistically, and respectfully on characters in their 60s?

SIDE NOTE: By the way, standing in front of me in the long line last night at the $3 cheap-o theater in Seattle? Bill and Melinda Gates. They were on their way to see The Wind that Shakes the Barley. The last time I stood next to Bill Gates was at the counter at a Dick's Burgers in Seattle. He bought a bag of three-dollar burgers there. I love this guy.

Edited by Jeffrey Overstreet

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

What about Gordon Pinchet? He's excellent in a powerfully understated, restrained performance. Where did this guy come from?
When I was telling my Canadian brother (via IMs) about the film, I said Pinchet was in it. He responded that he is a national treasure. So he does have a following, at least about the 49th parallel.

A foreign movie can't be stupid.

-from the film
Armin

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Yes. And his name is Pinsent. :)

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'll plead that I copied Jeffrey. I should have done some fact checking. ::blushing::

(that's kinda like pleading with the teacher for a better grade because I copied off somebody else's test)

Edited by Darrel Manson
A foreign movie can't be stupid.

-from the film
Armin

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Glad you liked it, Jeffrey. The male lead is, indeed, extraordinary, but I was so taken with Christie during the first half of the movie (she's not in it much at all during the second half) that I may have been blinded to Pinsent's greatness.

I have to say, that moment when Pinsent is heartbroken, standing at the elevator in the nursing home, and another patient approaches and

does his play-by-play routine

, may be the funniest moment in movies this entire year. Such an odd circumstance, and yet the release of emotion for the audience, at that particular moment, is wonderful. A great moment from a great movie.

Edited by Christian

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 1 month later...

Canadian film finds homegrown hero

The embattled English-Canadian cinema scene finally has something to cheer about: homegrown actress-turned-director Sarah Polley.

After years of dismal returns at the box office and scant international attention, Canuck film at last has a success story at home and abroad -- at least by the country's admittedly low commercial standards. The 28-year-old Toronto native's directorial debut "Away From Her" is that rarest of creatures, an English-Canadian film that has scored with the public and the critics. The quiet, moving drama has grossed $4.5 million in Canada and the U.S., marking the first time an English Canuck pic has done any business in the U.S. in years.

And the pic's star, Julie Christie, who plays an aging woman suffering from Alzheimer's, is already generating Oscar buzz. . . .

Variety, July 13

- - -

Wait a minute, weren't we cheering about Atom Egoyan's The Sweet Hereafter -- which co-starred Polley and was nominated for a couple of Oscars -- ten years ago?

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I spent quite a bit of time talking to one of the top guys at Mongrel Media a couple of weeks ago, and he says the DVD sales for this title are shaping up to be huge (huge, for a Canadian title in the Canadian market). He expects something like 75K units in the first wave. That will be at least another million dollars in revenue for the title. Not sure who is handling sales outside of Canada and what the results will be.

"Could we ever know each other in the slightest without the arts?"

« Nous connaîtrions-nous seulement un peu nous-mêmes, sans les arts? »

Quoted on Canada's $20 bill; from Gabrielle Roy's novel La montagne secrète. The English translation, The Hidden Mountain, is by Harry L. Binsse.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 3 months later...

I watched this on DVD Sunday night, thinking I might come down a little on my initial impression of Julie Christie's performance, but no, she is spectacular in this film. It's an amazing performance, one of the best -- male or female -- I've ever seen. The movie has Atom Egoyan's fingerprints all over it (he's one of the film's producers), but I don't know that director Sarah Polley took any orders from Egoyan. I don't care. The end result is really quite amazing.

Roger Ebert, catching up with titles he missed while recovering from his illness, reviews the film, and gives it one of his quickly accumulating four-star reviews. This one's fully deserved. He calls the film "a heartbreaking masterpiece."

Edited by Christian

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

Link to comment
Share on other sites

And I agree with him, and with you, Christian.

So far, nothing has come close to Christie's performance this year.

Last night, when we taped Dick Staub's Kindlings Muse podcast, we discussed this film, and I actually got a lump in my throat while I was gushing about my admiration for Christie in this role. She accomplishes so much by focusing on creating a three-dimensional, soulful human being rather than going to for the histrionics of disease-related mannerisms and signs of deterioration. By making this woman beautiful and complex and interesting, she makes the advance of the disease devastating. We respond out of love for the person rather than from our horror at the effects of Alzheimers.

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I watched this on DVD Sunday night, thinking I might come down a little on my initial impression of Julie Christie's performance, but no, she is spectacular in this film. It's an amazing performance, one of the best -- male or female -- I've ever seen. The movie has Atom Egoyan's fingerprints all over it, but I don't know that director Sarah Polley took any orders from Egoyan. I don't care. The end result is really quite amazing.

Roger Ebert, catching up with titles he missed while recovering from his illness, reviews the film, and gives it one of his quickly accumulating four-star reviews. This one's fully deserved. He calls the film "a heartbreaking masterpiece."

My wife and I saw this film a couple weeks ago as we were flying across the Atlantic Ocean on our way to Italy. We were sitting in the middle of a crowded plane, doing our best not to break down in tears. Even under those less than optimum conditions, we both came away as Away From Her evangelists. This is an incredibly tender, moving film, and beautifully acted. Kudos to Julie Christie, Gordon Pinsent, and director Sarah Polley.

Edited by Andy Whitman
Link to comment
Share on other sites

If you look up the podcast archive for Elvis Mitchell's "The Treatment," you'll find his conversation with Sarah Polley, which will endear you to her even more.

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 months later...

Doug Cummings on Away from Her:

Emotionally wrenching melodramas are not generally my cup of tea, so I rented this lovely, nuanced, lucid adaptation of Canadian author Alice Munro's story about Alzheimer's three times before getting around to watching it, and I'm very glad I finally did. What stands out are the surprises: the humor, the inventive structure that (fittingly) mystifies the story's chronology, and the supplementary characters. (I particularly liked Kristen Thomson's down to earth nurse.) It's a stunningly well conceived look at facing difficult truths, told with a hushed sensitivity rather than emotional bombast that makes it all the more affecting.

Aaaaaaaand David Cornelius on Away from Her:

... so much of

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

That Cornelius review is amazing, showing the worst outcome of the proliferation of movie reviews in the Internet age: It's easy to find someone who finds fault with just about anything.

I'm all for democracy of opinion, but his critiques are especially vapid. Yet that's how he experienced the film.

As for his second point, I loved the play-by-play guy and laughed uproariously -- along with most of the audience -- at one point in the theater when he was on screen. It was a relief from the sadness. Oddly, watching the same scene on video, I barely cracked a smile, and my wife didn't even get that far.

I wonder what the intent of that scene is. Clearly, Cornelius sees it as a cheap gag. I once saw it as a cathartic laugh. Now I'm not so sure what to think of that scene.

I like it that way.

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I saw that scene as an honest depiction of the kind of thing that happens around care centers and nursing homes. I remember visiting care centers with my high school choir, and after our concerts we would meet some of the most hilarious people, God bless them.

Almost every time I talk with her, my friend Karin ends up telling funny stories about encounters with rather colorful folks in the care center, folks who roam the halls in their wheelchairs offering ongoing commentary in different modes... including hellfire-and-brimstone preaching that actually sometimes relates to what's going on.

So that moment seemed especially true to me.

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Why David Cornelius, bless him, is right, and why Away From Her is a beautifully acted and sensitively written load of retarded codswallop.

Where do I begin with the mess that is this film? I think I will begin with the assisted-care facility into which Fiona -- a woman who is physically capable, remarkably self-aware, sexually potent, almost idyllically happy with her doting husband -- blithely commits herself, with all the eagerness needed to assuage Grant's conscience.

Nope, I didn't make it to the facility, did I? I see see I'm already ragging on Fiona going there. Okay, let's start over.

FWIW, Suz and I both come from long-lived stock, and have seen a fair number of relatives age into debilitation and confusion, where necessary be institutionalized, and die. I also have a number of professional caregivers in my immediate and extended family (including Suz, an RN who has worked in, volunteered at and otherwise frequented numerous facilities in multiple states). I know that other A&F regulars also have personal and familial involvement in the health care sector and would welcome other perspectives.

Had it been Grant who was confused and Fiona who was the default caregiver, it might have been necessary to institutionalize Grant. Given the size and strength differences between a big man like Grant and an ordinary-sized woman like Fiona, she would have found it increasingly difficult to care for him, prevent him from wandering off, etc.

As it was, though, especially given Fiona's actual condition, what wasn't working about Fiona living at home with Grant? Sometimes she wandered off and lay in the snow or wandered around town. Was Grant losing his mind too, so that he was unable to be on top of that and thus an unfit caregiver? Nothing in this relentlessly decorous and pleasant film hinted at any needs on Fiona's part that should have been a challenge for Grant to meet.

What else did he have to do with his life but care for her? We've even got a psychological motivation rooted in ancient history and guilt for him to want to do for her as long and heroically as possible. Maybe if he was a big jerk, he might want to ditch her, and maybe if she didn't love him she would have been just as happy to get away.

But her eagerness to get on with this next phase of her life -- after making love one last time -- it's just phony, phony, phony. That's not what it looks like when you institutionalize someone. It's a painful decision with the full brunt of the moral burden falling on the shoulders of the caregivers. This movie wants to make it Fiona's decision to make everybody from Grant to the audience more comfortable with it, and that ain't the way it happens.

And now we get to the institution itself, and the relentless decorousness and pleasantness of the film. Has anyone here ever laid eyes on a facility anything like the one in the film? (By a happy coincidence, we have a point of contrast in another film, The Savages, which is far more realistic -- in multiple senses of that word -- about what such facilities are and are like.)

I am talking about a place that is gorgeously appointed and immaculate, with uniformly personable and engaging staff, where (on the first floor at least) no one is ever neglected or left in need or distress, where everyone is happy and no one has any complaints, where the patient rooms have what look like hand-decorated name plaques -- and new patients aren't allowed any visitors at all -- not even spouses -- for the first 30 days.

Can it really be? Somewhere in the English-speaking world of the latter half of the 20th century, there was ever an institution with such a draconian, immoral and counter-intuitive policy? Good day, sir, your wife's mind is fading and even though she just made love to you and you are her whole world right now, given a 30-day absence you may lose her entirely, but that's what we do here and it works for us.

If there is or ever was such an insitution, I guess the film could work as an expose/cautionary tale, like The Magdalene Sisters or one of the recent political agitprop docs -- a "Never Again" sort of thing, maybe. But I'm not really getting the outrage and indignation -- just a rueful off-the-record caveat from one of the uniformly personable and engaging staff.

I realize that nearly all of the action set in the facility takes place on the first floor, which I gather is heaven on earth compared to the horrors of the second floor. Not that what we saw of the second floor looked all that bad to me, but maybe Grant is delicate about these things. Even so, David Corelius is absolutely right about Sportscaster Guy, who works cutely enough when he's actually calling a game but then tips over into Crazy People territory with the bit by the elevator. Give. Me. A. Break.

A couple of telling lines aside, this is not a movie that faces up to hard truths or realities. This is a movie that makes everything pretty and polite with a big pink bow. Fiona is confused in a pretty, decorous, dignified way. Grant's past indiscretion(s?) is/are politely gestured toward, and pose no impediment to his and Fiona's gracious and happy relationship. Everything about the facility is pretty and dignified and reassuring.

That's all I have time for now, and I haven't even gotten to the ludicrous business with Aubrey's wife. Oh my. I'll be back.

Edited by SDG

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

Link to comment
Share on other sites

And now we get to the institution itself, and the relentless decorousness and pleasantness of the film. Has anyone here ever laid eyes on a facility anything like the one in the film?

Yes. My 92-year-old mother-in-law lives in one remarkably like it. It's clean. It's pleasant. The workers are attentive to the needs of the residents. And yes, there really are the "crazy" residents who are oddly endearing in their quirks and idiosyncracies. I didn't perceive the film as being far removed from reality at all, including Sportscaster Guy. I've seen many people reliving their past and filtering present reality through the lens of their lives thirty or forty years ago.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Yes. My 92-year-old mother-in-law lives in one remarkably like it. It's clean. It's pleasant. The workers are attentive to the needs of the residents. And yes, there really are the "crazy" residents who are oddly endearing in their quirks and idiosyncracies. I didn't perceive the film as being far removed from reality at all, including Sportscaster Guy. I've seen many people reliving their past and filtering present reality through the lens of their lives thirty or forty years ago.

You left off the clincher: What about the 30-day waiting period?

Incidentally, my 91-year-old grandmother lives with her 92-year-old sister in an institition that is clean, pleasant and staffed by attentive employees, without remotely coming within a million miles of the idyllic conditions seen in the film. (Their 90-year-old sister still lives on her own.)

Both my grandmother and my aunt are confused to varying degrees, and I am certainly familiar with how confusion can be endearing. (I forgot to mention that I worked weekends in a hospital myself for six or seven years.) Sportscaster Guy "calling" the man with the broken heart still struck me as a refugee from Crazy People.

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

 Share


×
×
  • Create New...