Just after work, I run into a coworker my mom’s age who’s waiting for a bus taking her down to the subway line. I tell her ‘I have the choice of watching a 1960’s movie about French guys teaching a loose woman a lesson or a new movie about alien sex.’
She oohed and replied, ‘Good luck with that.’ Then we talked about how useful her sons are in the kitchen. I tried to steer back the conversation to my topic. ‘I was thinking about this yesterday, that I’d rather be the new school film lover who says “Fuck Citizen Kane, 2010 is a great year” instead of the one who says “Citizen Kane is the greatest movie ever, get off my lawn.” But then I feel like the latter right now.’ She laughs.
I’ve always been the kind of person who thinks that good movies are there if you find them, but with financial constraints, it’s really hard to do that now.
I then look at my other choices, eventually becoming entertainment for the both of us. ‘On Etobicoke, there’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. You should have read how Norah Ephron made fun of the lead character. “I’m gonna smoke intensely because I have small breasts.” ‘
‘Poor girl. Small breasts are nothing to be ashamed of.’ We get off the bus into the station, walk down to the platforms.
‘On the West end, there’s a movie where Michael Caine shoots a bunch of teenagers.’
‘Yeah, I’ve heard of that.’
‘There’s a probably old movie called What I Learned from LSD, playing in some guy’s living room. I’ve been there -‘
‘That’s the kind of place you only go to once. Promise me you won’t go there,’ she says in her best mother-like tone.
‘Fine. That reminds me of a short experimental film playing tomorrow afternoon at the Harbourfront called The Power of the Vagina.’ She then reverses her motherly tone by making jokes about vaginas and barbells. Don’t worry, I wasn’t freaked out. We’re close. And I’ve said a lot of stuff to her that’s too much information for her. Or anyone.
ph. Whitney Seibold
‘On the east end, there’s the Tom Cruise movie.’
‘I can’t stand looking at his face. It’s like with Angelina Jolie.’
The train stops at St. George. My coworker asks, ‘Is this your stop?’
I answered ‘It would be if I was watching the French orgy movie. I’m gonna go with the weird alien sex one.’
‘Ok, have fun.’
I get off at Bathurst. I dig down my pockets for my phone. There’s two messages, the first from a friend who has the hat I lost on a birthday party. The second is from Lars, who told me about the End of Youth Triple Bill on TVO, with The Last Picture Show, Y Tu Mama Tambien and River’s Edge. I gratefully replied ‘Thanks for the heads up, I was almost gonna see Splice.’
By the way, how much are prices at the Carlton these days?
In one the first scenes of “Away From Her,” Fiona Anderson (Julie Christie) puts a pan on a freezer. There’s no music to put this action in context. Fiona’s obliviousness and her husband Grant’s (Gordon Pinsent, voice of God) confusion add to the mix of what I felt as an audience. Do I react in shock? Burst in inappropriate laughter?
After that scene in the kitchen and other after that she is aware of being hit by Alzheimer’s and its consequences and warns Grant about the latter. At times she walks within a room like a ghost, mourning lost memory without crying over it. There is a repeated shot of her looking lost in her vast snowy backyard. The minimal use of the film score, the lack of overwrought crying scenes. Mostly, this movie’s approach is about what’s not being given nor shown nor heard, letting the audience react in their personal way.
I’m thinking of other actresses that might be able to pull of the character, Canadian ones. Mary Walsh would rock the skiing scene. But Julie Christie is a solid statue as Fiona and doesn’t let go, as they say. No one can do elegance like the kind she puts into her character.
That sounds a little dreary to many of you, but there’s some verbally aggressive yet sometimes comic anger from the characters, especially the women. Fiona gives Grant the worst goodbye ever. Miss Montpellier (Wendy Crewson) condescends to him. Kristy gives him a torrential speech about the obliviousness of men, out of character for archetypal customer service characters. Marian’s (Olympia Dukakis) is just rough yet likable. The men get in on the action too. Grant comments on seeing his wife in the aged home, and Fiona’s new boyfriend Aubrey (Michael Murphy) can do so much with a look.
You can look at the film as Grant’s world crumbling just as much as its implied gender dynamics. He’s learning about women and female anger and unwritten institutions of womanhood that he’s been oblivious to. Through Fiona’s degenerative condition, Fiona, Grant and the supporting characters in their lives are feeling the end, and therefore things must be said and revealed.
It’s also a ‘Canadian story for Americans’ narrative, which shows especially in Marion’s words like ‘Kamloops, BC’ ‘Canadian Tire.’ The whole room knew where Kamloops is. There’s also the retired hockey commentator who gives some of the best moments of the film.
The only flaw of this movie is when Grant uses a metaphor to describe Alzheimer’s, like light switches in the house turning off one at a time. Then the film shows their house and the lights turn off the way Grant has described. I believe in showing or telling by not both. The rest of it is a story about loss with comic relief, surprising for director Sarah Polley’s reputation.