Writer and director Sara Polley’s 2007 film Away From Her was based upon the Alice Monroe short story, “The Bear Came over the Mountain.” Julie Christie starred as the actress who played a woman in her early 60s whose inherent debilitation with Alzheimer’s left her husband, actor Gordon Pinsent, learning how to let his beloved go after decades of marriage.
The characters are devoted to each other and over the decades their union has not been idyllic. As a professor, he had extra-marital affairs. I love the irony in the script that has the character Christie plays, Fiona, forgetting everything, such as putting the leftovers from supper into the freezer instead of the fridge, and the only thing she can seem to remember are his indiscretions. The filming of their cross-country skiing routine becoming a foreign exercise is great cinematography. Actor Gordon Pinsent’s voyeurism of his wife forming an emotional union with another man in the long-term treatment center makes the script heartfelt and intriguing.
Unions are difficult, and the disappointment and pain that comes and goes for those who share their lives with a partner for decades deserve a medal. Respect, compassion, and forgiveness win.
Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke’s 2012 French-language film, Amour, incorporates a similar, painful theme. Married for decades, her physical deterioration from a double stroke is painful to watch. Like Julie Cristie, actress Emmanuelle Riva was nominated for Best Actress. Amour won Best Foreign Film at the Oscars in 2013. Christie and Riva are elegant, beautiful women with inner strength and a life time capacity of love.
What’s exceptional about both films is how haunting they are. Days after viewing, one is still ruminating about their characters. Devoid of sentimentality, both explore the inevitable.
Help me out, film students.
Michael Haneke’s direction is quite interesting. What kind of shot is it when the reactions of one character is recorded while the action takes place elsewhere? For instance, Riva’s character, Anne, was a classically trained piano teacher. Her former student, played himself, the celebrated pianist in France, Alexandre Tharaud, who has arrived at the apartment for a visit. Georges goes to the kitchen to get him a cup of tea. You would think the camera would follow Georges into the kitchen to prepare, but the camera stays with Alexandre in the chair, looking around the room uncomfortably. Other times the shots are from the far side of the room, looking down a hall where a character sits in profile at the other end of the room.
The audience is forbidden to see the inner motivations of the characters. You really get a sense of the parameters in the apartment where practically the entire film is shot. The exception is another example of interesting cinematography. In the second scene, the camera is anchored facing the audience in a theater. A piano recital featuring Alexandre Tharaud is about to begin. The MC tells the audience to turn off their electronic devices. Clapping ensues. The reactions of the audience are all that we see. Never the pianist on the stage. Very strange. Very interesting perspective.
The henious crime featured in the film by Michael Haneke is nothing short of amazing. That is, he creates a loving couple who agree when the time is right to alter their lives forever.
I highly recommend both films. Is one better than the other? Yes.
Don’t fear the subtitles.