I'm not the sort that readily embraces change. Abrupt shifts in routine, notable differences in loved ones and the gradual acceleration of years can weigh anyone down, but some are more inclined to roll with the punches than others -- I've learned I'm not such a person. Perhaps that is why Canadian actress Sarah Polley's directorial debut, Away from Her, affected me as deeply as it did. It's a film as much about the grueling realities of Alzheimer's disease as it is a thoughtful, considered rumination about life's inevitabilities; Away from Her is a shattering, emotionally brutal experience, anchored by an exquisite Julie Christie performance.
Polley, who adapted the screenplay from Alice Munro's short story "The Bear Came Over the Mountain," displays a keen eye for the subtle language of long-time married couple Grant and Fiona (Gordon Pinsent and Christie, respectively). Fiona's mental state begins to deteriorate, forcing Grant to place her in assisted living. Her adjustment to life away from her husband is swift and she quickly begins doting on Aubrey (Michael Murphy), a mute resident whose wife Marian (Olympia Dukakis), is wrestling with many of the same problems as Grant. As he watches helplessly, Grant's beloved wife slips further and further out of his world, unable or unwilling to remember his place in her life.
The main quartet of actors is superb throughout -- while Christie is undoubtedly the focus, Pinsent, Murphy and Dukakis all turn in exceptional work, particularly Pinsent, who matches the peerless Christie nearly step for step. But the true revelation here is Polley's mature hand behind the camera; her insightful dissection of a slowly disintegrating marriage belies her relative youth -- the story's graceful, poignant climax might've been far more maudlin in experienced hands. I'd like to think Polley avoids sentimentality by offering up these well-rounded characters and letting life -- not a paint-by-numbers narrative -- play itself out. A somber, moving film about love, life and learning to let go, Away from Her is powerful, bordering on revelatory. Deceptively simple but wrenching in execution, Polley has become a talent to look out for behind the scenes as well as in front of the camera.
Presented on DVD in the States by Lionsgate, this two-disc Canadian set is offered up by Mongrel Media; at first blush, this set offers a bit more meat than the American disc, which, naturally, differs just enough (look for more details below) to warrant fans of the film possibly considering both necessary purchases. The DVD
The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is spot-on throughout, rendering skin tones accurately and presenting the crisp, wintry landscapes with vivid detail and no glaring defects. It's a clean presentation of recently filmed material. The Audio:
Offered in Dolby Digital 5.1, Away from Her sounds clear and clean with no distortion or drop-out; Jonathan Goldsmith's lovely score fills in around the dialogue, but never overrides the words. An optional Dolby 2.0 stereo track is included, as is a French Dolby Digital 5.1 track and French subtitles. The Extras:
There aren't any supplements on disc one, but the second disc hosts a quartet of bonus features. Polley's short film, I Shout Love, kicks things off with a run time of 37 minutes, 25 seconds and is presented in non-anamorphic widescreen; Polley contributes a warm, informative (and optional) commentary track. Five deleted scenes (playable separately or all together for an aggregate run time of eight minutes, 14 seconds) also feature optional commentary from Polley. The film's theatrical trailer is presented, inexplicably, in 1.33:1 fullscreen with the five minute, 24 second featurette "Behind the Scenes of 'Away from Her'" rounding out the set. The most glaring difference between the Canadian and American releases is the absence of Julie Christie's commentary on this two-disc set -- however, Polley's short film and the making-of featurette are absent on the American disc. Both releases have the deleted scenes. Final Thoughts:
A somber, moving film about love, life and learning to let go, Away from Her is powerful, bordering on revelatory. Deceptively simple but wrenching in execution, writer/director Sarah Polley has become a talent to look out for behind the scenes as well as in front of the camera. Highly recommended.