Julie Christie is the female corollary to what they always said about James Bond (or was it Steve McQueen?): Men want to be with her, women want to be her. And it still holds true, as Christie proves in the exquisite, closely observed "Away From Her," a quietly shattering portrait of a marriage. As a woman in the early throes of Alzheimer's, Christie proves yet again that she's an actress not just of supreme physical beauty but finely tuned sensitivity.
Fiona and Grant (Christie and Gordon Pinsent) have built a wonderful life in their 45 years of marriage, spending what look like truly golden years enjoying a lovely lakeside cottage in a companionable balance of robust physical exercise and quietude. They're 60-is-the-new-40 people: attractive, still sexy, cross-country skiing every day, wearing jeans and funky sweaters. When Fiona distractedly puts a frying pan in the freezer, it's a moment that could happen to anyone half her age; when she forgets the word for "wine" during dinner with friends, Grant laughs it off with a quick, kind joke.
But it's not a joke. "Away From Her," which writer-director Sarah Polley adapted from Alice Munro's short story "The Bear Came Over the Mountain," chronicles the ebb and flow of Fiona's awareness, as well as Grant's reluctant realization that, to keep the love of his life, he has to let her go.
There's a karmic twist: Fiona's retreat into her long-term memories happens to bring a skein of unresolved issues and unspoken bitterness to the surface. The conflicts that have long percolated under the smooth surface of things are never made explicit; instead, Polley makes skillful use of subtlety and allusion, gracefully navigating a story of knotty temporal challenges and ethical nuances.
Rarely has love at any age been depicted so honestly on screen. For such a fully realized portrait to be created by a 28-year-old first-time director is even more remarkable.
-- Ann Hornaday (May 11, 2007)