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Quiet Anguish

Away From Her, Written and directed by Sarah Polley

I'm grateful to lidocafe for strongly recommending this movie, because I might not have had the courage to watch it otherwise. It was a lovely, simple, heartbreaking film, beautifully directed and lit from within by three marvellous performances.

Sadly, the [fucking] Academy is unlikely to notice, let alone reward, Gordon Pinsent's remarkable portrait of - yes - quiet anguish. He has been married for forty-four years to Fiona, played by a luminous Julie Christie. She has developed alzheimer's (or probably, more correctly, dementia) and is in a long-term care facility. Once there, she develops an attachment for another "inmate": the husband of Marian, the character played with remarkable restraint by Olympia Ducakis. The Gordon Pinsent character has to watch as first Fiona comes to life in the presence of this other man, and then pines and fades away when they are separated.

It's adapted from a short story by the wonderful Alice Munro, and it lives up to the quality of her work. Sarah Polley is to be congratulated for the restraint and real beauty she brings both to the script and to her direction of the three wonderful actors. Actually, all the performances were wonderful, and so many small scenes had remarkable impact. The one that brought me to tears was the exchange between Gordon Pinsent and a young punkish girl.

Overall, the movie is heartbreaking, as life can be heartbreaking, but not really sad. I found it at times hard to watch, more because of some emotional buttons of my own that it pressed. I spent hours, it feels like years in total, going in and out of hospital rooms to visit my mother or take her to visit her friends, and I still find it difficult to spend any time there, or, apparently, to see a movie about someone else doing that.
And then, there's my darling aunt who suffers from dementia, with whom I've had no contact for about three years although she still lives in a home in a village in Wales near her daughter. Because I spent some time with her when she was in the early stages of dementia, I can testify for the clarity of Julie Christie's performance, but that again makes it no less hard to watch.

Still, it is a beautiful film, and I'm glad I saw it.

What was that book he was reading out loud? Letters from Iceland? I'll have to Google it. (ETA: oh, it's Auden. No wonder)

And one silly comment: although the snow and wintry landscape was appropriate to the mood of the film, it is a shame that it's going to perpetuate false stereotypes about Canada. Because it was a thoroughly, unashamedly, Canadian film, and that was a great thing about it.


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 1st, 2007 01:56 am (UTC)
Glad you liked it! Yeah, I think it is amazing, and I can only imagine that Polley has the kind of wry tenderness that Munro can have in order to bring out those performances. (S has been watching Road to Avonlea on DVD, and even there, Polley's intelligence shines from her eyes.) Then again, Pinsent, Christie, and Dukakis have plenty of experience--life and acting--between them, and that comes through too. Polley is 27!

I know what you mean about the snow, but still, I think it is a wonderful symbol for aging and forgetting and distance, and certain scenes reminded me of Egoyan's profound The Sweet Hereafter, where the snow also has a symbolic quality and from which Polley (she was in it) might have drawn some images.
Oct. 1st, 2007 02:56 am (UTC)
Yes, that's a good point. The Sweet Hereafter was, as you say, profound. And beautiful. And, yes, Sarah Polley perhaps cannot but help to have been influenced by it. But you have to give her credit for her own sensitivity and intelligence. I'm sure it's not all about having worked with Egoyan and others when she was young... "wry tenderness." yes. That just about sums it up.
Oct. 1st, 2007 03:25 am (UTC)
No, no, I didn't mean it was all about her movie upbringing--I thought I was giving her credit, as you say! In fact, few people, Egoyan included, could have so sensitively and faithfully done Munro justice.
Oct. 1st, 2007 07:25 am (UTC)
Letters from Iceland is an excellent book.
Oct. 1st, 2007 02:16 pm (UTC)
The bits he read out loud in the movie were gorgeious. I'm going to seek it out.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )


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