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AWAY FROM HER
2007 - Sarah Polley
Canada
75
Opening Shot

Away From Her begins with the a man driving in his car while holding a note with an address. The shot fades into a close-up of a young woman's smiling face (the image is filtered as if seen through a dream). "She said, "Do you think it would be fun if we got married?" And what do you say. I took her up on it. I never wanted to be away from her. She had the spark of life." The image then fades into snow tracks, and a couple cross country skiing...

The Film

Written and directed by actress Sarah Polley in her debut, who adapted the film from a short story by Alice Munro (“The Bear Came Over the Mountain”), Away From Her is a heartrending film of memory, and of marriage. The film is beautifully structured like a poem, drifting in a non-linear journey of the past and present. Early in the film (over the opening titles) we see a series of shots that are poignantly detailed, as we subtly observe three different perspectives of a couple cross-country skiing (together, on separate paths, and then together again). Polley effectively plays with time, skillfully heightening the films treatment of memory- much in a similar style of the films co-producer Atom Egoyan (who directed Polley in his 1997 masterpiece The Sweet Hereafter). Only 28 years old, Polley shows the grace and wisdom of a filmmaker far ahead of her age in the way she finds the perfect little details of a 44-year old marriage. A love that after 44-years has grown stronger through memory. So what happens when Fiona (played by Julie Christie in a career-defining performance) suffers Alzheimer's disease? Can their love persevere? When Fiona tells her husband Grant that she “is beginning to disappear”, she agrees to be submitted to Meadowlake Nursing Home, a place that seems destined to erase memories of the past, even a 44-year marriage. By Meadowlakes policy (which as a nurse states is probably more convenient for the staff), Grant must be away from Fiona for 30 days. The films title seems to reflect both husband and wife, as they are taken away (he from her, and her from herself) from the loss of shared memory. Carrying the emotional weight of the film without an ounce of sentiment is the incredible performance from the always reliable Julie Christie. As Fiona, Christie is heart-wrenching, but in a way that is perfectly subtle and underplayed. Away From Her is an incredibly moving film. It is heartbreakingly sad, but ultimately hopeful in its graceful observation of acceptance, and of selfless love.

The Filmmaker

Away From Her marks the first feature film for Canadian writer-director Sarah Polley, but she has made several short films starting with 1999's The Best Day of My Life. Unfortunately I have yet to see any of these shorts. Of course Polley is mostly known for her acting which dates back to her early childhood as she was born into a show business family. Polley wisdom beyond her age is not only evident in her masterful debut feature, but also in her choices of roles as an actress. Avoiding every mainstream roles she's offered, Polley tends to work with specific filmmakers, notably one of her early mentors, fellow Canadian Atom Egoyan. She first starred in Egoyan's 1994 film Exotica, but great acclaim would come her way with her powerful performance in Egoyan's excellent 1997 film The Sweet Hereafter. Since then she has picked specific roles and worked with some highly acclaimed filmmakers, particularly in the independent scene (including David Cronenberg, Hal Hartley, Isabel Coixet, Wim Wenders, Kathryn Bigelow, Michael Winterbottom), as well as slightly more mainstream efforts like Dawn of the Dead (2004) and Go (1999). Her sensibilities as an actor and working with talented filmmakers as well as a specific and careful selection of roles would seem to make her tailor-made for success as a director. Polley earned an Academy Award nomination for Screenwriting with her debut, which will likely lead to more opportunities as a director. Lets hope so!

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Resources
trailer (youtube) sadness without sorrow (a2pcinema article)
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