1968: january 23
1968: january 24

oscar run viii: away from her (sarah polley, 2006)

I should probably call this "oscar run v" since three of the movies I saw before the nominees were announced didn't actually get any nods (two documentaries and Spider-Man 3). Away from Her is nominated for two Oscars, Best Actress (Julie Christie) and Best Screenplay from Another Source (director Sarah Polley). The surprising thing about Christie's role is that, while it is clearly the female lead, it is not really the main character of the movie. She plays a women with Alzheimer's, and her husband, played by Gordon Pinsent, is the center of the film, as we follow his coming to terms with the loss of his wife to the disease.

As I watched the movie, I thought of Ingmar Bergman, particularly the early-60s trilogy Through a Glass Darkly/Winter Light/The Silence. Pinsent is like a Canadian Gunnar Björnstrand, while Christie takes on the Harriet Andersson role. They are both excellent. I probably don't intend that the Bergman reference be taken as a good thing ... Polley shows a firm control of her film that is surprising in such a newcomer to directing, but the smothering oppressiveness of much of Bergman's work isn't always for the best. Polley, though, mostly avoids the oppressiveness without candy-coating her story, which is an interesting trick. As usual, my thoughts are far from original ... Roger Ebert gets at the Bergman connection:

All of this is seen not in darkness and shadows and the gloom of winter and visions in the night, but in bright focus. Polley told Andrew O’Hehir of Salon: “For me the overriding palette that we were working with was the idea of this very strong, sometimes blinding winter sunlight that should infuse every frame. I didn’t want the visual style to draw too much focus to itself. I felt like this needed to be an elegant and simple film, and that it had to have a certain grace.”

How can you do that by limiting your palette, instead of making it more complex? I was reminded of Bergman’s “Winter Light” (1962), which bathes despair in merciless daylight.

Julie Christie certainly deserves her acting nomination, and she also serves as an excellent example of why actors should avoid the plastic surgeon. Christie shows no signs of the knife, and this enables her to use her face in expressive ways more plastic actors can no longer pull off. Of course, it helps if you look like Julie Christie to begin with, but the point is nonetheless made.

Away from Her isn't about much more than its central theme, but when it is done with this kind of precision, that is more than enough.


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