Away from Her (2006)

My wife is especially concerned about mental ailments and added a whole bunch of films on the subject after following a course on it. This is the first entry to be knocked off the list and I probably wouldn’t have come across it in the ordinary course of events. It was notable enough when it was released, being nominated for and winning multiple awards, but it’s clearly not a film that will be remembered as a classic.

Grant and Fiona are a couple who have been married for 44 years. It becomes apparent to both of them that Fiona has Alzheimer’s disease and things get to a head when she wanders away and becomes lost after leaving the house to ski. Fiona insists that it is time to check her into a retirement home and Grant regretfully does so, despite a rule that he is not allowed to visit her during the first 30 days to allow her to settle in. When he is finally allowed to visit, he is dismayed to discover that she has struck up a relationship with another male resident Aubrey and does not remember him. The staff at the home explains to him that this situation is rather common. Still, he continues to visit, becoming a sort of voyeur as he watches Fiona with Aubrey because interacting with her appears to cause distress to the both of them. One day Aubrey’s wife Marian checks him out of the home. This sends Fiona into a state of depression and she refuses to even get out of bed. To help her, Grant decides to try to persuade Marian to let Aubrey stay in the home again.

Stories about loss of memory are always painful to watch and are doubly so if they involved aged couples who have been together for decades. Away From Her milks this sense of tragedy for all that it’s worth and the fact that Grant is forced to arrange for his wife to be with another man for the sake of her happiness adds a further twist of the knife. The film comes close to being overly sappy at times but director Sarah Polley is competent enough to keep it tasteful and elegant. An extra of point of interest is that Grant is plagued by doubts over whether or not Fiona is feigning her condition in order to punish him for past infidelities, making him doubt how he should approach her relationship with Aubrey. Unfortunately I don’t believe that the film does enough with this angle and I don’t think the actor Gordon Pinsent evinces enough guilt to elevate it above a passing consideration.

As a whole, the film could be similarly said to be competent but unexceptional. The characters say the right things, every scene does its job and so on but there’s little artistic flair here. Nothing stands out in terms of camera work or music. Compared to Amour for example, a film sharing some of the same themes, it may as well be a made for television movie. I’d still judge it to be a worthy watch about an important subject but this won’t be an experience that stays with me.

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