Sarah Sarah Polley’s first feature ranks with finest Canadian films

Away from Her, the eagerly awaited first feature by Sarah Polley is one of those rare films that move you, not to tears but to a higher level of understanding of the nature of love.

Sarah Polley’s career has been literally amazing. First a child actor carrying her chosen profession into teens and adulthood and then writing and directing short films.

Now at age 27, she does herself and Canadian films proud with Away From Her, adapted from an Alice Munro story and directs with the unerring touch of a veteran.

Away From Her stars Julie Christie, who has aged with amazing grace, and veteran Canadian actor Gordon Pinsent. Grant, a former university professor, and Fiona have been married 44 years. They’ve come to an age when sharing outings in the woods near their home means more than passion or mere acceptance of each other.

Before the parting: Grant and Fiona

But Fiona begins to realize her memory lapses are more than part of the usual aging process. First she leaves notes for herself on cupboards and in drawers then gradually accepts the fact she’s developing Alzheimer’s. In spite of Grant’s misgivings, she commits herself to a nursing home. The super-efficient director of the home (Wendy Crewson) asks Grant to refrain from visits for a month.

During his absence, Fiona becomes attached to a speechless, wheelchair-bound patient, and once again a visitor, Grant experiences a heart wrenching sense of futility and even jealousy.

The story resolves itself without melodramatics into a moving picture of a love so strong that it is willing to make sacrifices.

Fine performances by Michael Murphy as the wheelbound patient, Wendy Crewson, Kristen Thompson’s a sympathetic nurse and above all by Olympia Dukakis as the wife of Fiona’s new friend who must struggle to make ends meet and with whom Grant begins a relationship thorny at first and then mellowing while Grant still remains faithful in spirit to Fiona.

In my book, Away From Her must be ranked as one of the finest Canadian films ever made.

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