Writer and director Sarah Polley adapted Away From Her from a short story by Alice Munro specifically for Julie Christie (Doctor Zhivago and more recently Finding Neverland). Christie is astonishing as Fiona, a woman suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, as is her co-star Gordon Pinsent (The Good Shepard) who as her husband Grant must first send her to an institution and then cope with the fact that she develops feelings for another patient.
Polley is herself a distinguished actor in Canadian and independent American cinema. With roles in films such as The Sweet Hereafter and The Claim to her name it is not surprising to see her bring such a high level of integrity to her feature film directorial début. Polley clearly knows where to place the camera and how long to let a moment linger to produce maximum emotional impact without ever stooping to sentiment or melodrama.
While the devastating effects of Alzheimer’s disease are a major issue in Away From Her, it is also about the extraordinary emotional sacrifices that Fiona and Grant make for each other. Obviously this is a sad film but it is also a film about dignity, tenderness and true love.
Originally appeared in The Big Issue, No. 289, 2007