Love has rarely seemed as fragile and precious as it does in Away From Her, an unlikely and sometimes shattering directorial debut from Canadian actress Sarah Polley. Adapted from Alice Munro’s short story “The Bear Came Over the Mountain,” the movie centers on Fiona and Grant, whose 50-year marriage has settled into a comfortable and tender intimacy, despite certain troubles they endured in the past. Yet when Fiona (Julie Christie) begins to show symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and must eventually move into a full-time care facility, those troubles revisit in disturbing new ways. Though perceptive and knowing about the aging process, Away From Her is a relationship tale first and foremost, and one of the most unique that I’ve ever seen. Few love stories are this intricately told outside of the tortured domestic dramas of Ingmar Bergman. Much of the ingenuity comes from the fact that these are older characters, not Hollywood’s usual batch of fresh-faced teens. As such, they have a lifetime’s worth of thoughts, desires, regrets and dreams that the filmmakers can tap. All of these elements play across Christie’s face, aged but still elegant, even as Fiona descends into a foggy fear. Early on, Fiona explains, “When I look away, I forget what yellow means. But I can look again. Sometimes there’s a deliciousness in oblivion.” If that’s true, then Away From Her lets us taste it.
Fair warning: the mustaches are not ironic