It seems as though every ten years, I need to see an Oscar-worthy picture starting with the letter A starring Julie Christie. On Washington Birthday weekend 1998, it was Afterglow, with Nick Nolte at the Spectrum Theatre in Albany. A couple of weeks ago, it was Away from Her on a DVD at home.

This is a story of a loving couple, Fiona and Grant, who both notice that she is forgetting more and more details about her life, and even where the frying pan goes. Ultimately, she goes to a facility, where her husband comes nearly every day trying to find his wife again. Unfortunately, not unlike the real-life situation of Sandra Day O’Connor’s husband, Fiona grows an attachment with another man. How he deals with it, and why, plus the glimpses of their 40 years of marriage, are the real driving forces of this film.

Julie Christie’s Oscar nomination is well-deserved. Gordon Pinsent, a character actor who I’ve seen (Shipping News, e.g.), but don’t specifically remember, does a lot of the heavy lifting in this picture and is also excellent.

I listened to just a little of the EXTRAS tracking, but Julie Christie indicated that she got involved with this film because of the wonderful dialogue of actress Sarah Polley, and because of the friendship they had developed working on a previous film. Still, Julie wasn’t sure of Sarah’s directing abilities until they got on the set, where Christie realized how confident first-time director Polley was.

There were a couple of distractions. One is the use of a Neil Young song that has a very personal, another context for me. (The movie also uses k.d. lang’s version of Young’s Helpless; the movie was shot in Canada.)
The other was that, before even the previews, were a bunch of stars, including movie co-star Olympia Dukakis, charging the audience to become more aware of Alzheimer’s disease. Dick van Dyke, for instance, mentioned that he had a 50-year-old friend with the ailment. It was very sincere but put me in the mindset that this was going to be a made-for-TV overwrought drama, rather than the fine film it turned out to be.

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