Away from Her
directed by Sarah Polley
(Lions Gate, 2006)

When Fiona Anderson (Julie Christie) discovers she has Alzheimer's disease, she opts to go to a nursing home. Her husband, Grant (Gordon Pinsent) objects, but she's firm and believes it's for the best.

It takes a lot of grace to step away from a 44-year marriage and into a home on your own. Christie's depiction of her parting with her husband is heart-wrenching.

The couple has never been apart for 44 years, but the facility requires that they have no contact for the first 30 days to allow Fiona to settle in. When Grant returns, he's greeted by a stranger who has formed an attachment to Aubrey (Michael Murphy), another male inmate.

The story focuses mainly on the older couple, but we see occasional flashbacks of younger times. And Grant rightfully questions whether Fiona has forgotten him after the 30 day separation or if she's punishing him for his infidelities as a young college professor.

Away from Her brings into focus issues of eldercare and elder sexuality that many of us might shy away from. The story is treated with grace and compassion and, while it could be depressing, it's uplifting in many ways.

Sarah Polley, just 22 years old, did an astounding job bringing this cast and story together. She's already a force to be reckoned with and has been since her film debut at 9.

The depiction of the care facility Fiona's committed to is lovely and I wish with all my heart it was so. There are many compassionate and loving people in the eldercare business, but there are also many understaffed, underpaid and overworked employees as well whose decisions are made by bean counters and staff convenience rather than the welfare of the patient. One solid example of this in the movie is the 30-day required separation for new patients to "settle in" to the facility. How cruel is that to entrust your beloved family member to a new place without being able to see them and check on their welfare?

review by
Becky Kyle

22 November 2008

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