Fading Memories

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Away from Her' Deftly Portrays Couple's Battle With Alzheimer's

Canadian actress-turned-director Sarah Polley’s startling debut feature is a far cry from the personal, heartfelt, semi-autobiographical tale often told by a rookie behind the camera. Polley wrote the adapted screenplay for “Away from Her” after reading “The Bear Came Over the Mountain,” an Alice Munro short story published in the New Yorker.

How could a 28-year-old dare to present the perspective of an Alzheimer’s patient, along with that of the suffering spouse? That seemed to be mighty ambitious, especially for a first feature. But Polley had made shorts, learned from some of the world’s leading directors, and always seemed to possess a wisdom beyond her years.

Enough people believed in Polley for her to get “Away from Her” financed and shot in a jiffy. Those in her camp included Oscar winners Julie Christie (“Darling”) and Olympia Dukakis (“Moonstruck”). They headline the cast along with Canadian actor-writer-director Gordon Pinsent, winner of multiple Canadian Genie and Gemini awards.

Polley’s direction is intelligent and assured. She trusts her actors enough to let them quietly perform without much talking, using their faces and gestures to convey emotion and tell the story. (Actually, that seems much like Polley’s own acting style, although she does not appear in this film.) A picture tells a thousand words, and Polley’s images are marked by long, memorable looks at the actors’ faces. A happily married couple’s decades-long union is only torn apart after the wife (Christie) is struck by Alzheimer’s. Grant (Pinsent) is unable to tear himself away from her, even after incidents show that he is no longer able to care for her. Finally, he reluctantly places her in a nursing home.

When he visits after a mandated month-long absence, he’s startled to find that she ignores him. She’s now cozy with Aubrey (Michael Murphy), a male patient who is a former acquaintance from her youth. Later, Grant meets with Aubrey’s wife Marian (Dukakis). As spouses of Alzheimer’s patients, the two find they have something in common.

Away from Her (English; 110 min.) Landmark’s E Street Cinema Opens Fri., May 11

4 out of 5 stars

‘After the Wedding’

Danish filmmaker Susanne Bier follows up her 1995 Sundance hit “Brothers” with “After the Wedding.” Like much recent Danish cinema, led by Dogme 95 champion Lars von Trier, it’s a small film eschewing lavish production values to focus on characters and emotions.

Unlike the homecoming of 1998’s “The Celebration” by Danish filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg the world of “After the Wedding” is not a completely bleak affair. The film is just as full of melodrama, but it delivers a dose of Hollywood-style hope in humanity.

In India, Danish expat Jacob (Mads Mikkelsen from “Casino Royale”) runs an orphanage, where he has a close bond with an 8-year-old who’s been there since birth. Faced with the orphanage’s closure, Jacob travels back home to Denmark to pitch a wealthy man, Jørgen (Rolf Lassgård), for a donation.

Their discussions will take several days, so Jørgen invites Jacob to his daughter Anna’s (Stine Fischer Christensen) wedding, which is happening during Jacob’s visit. Jacob is startled to find that he knows Jørgen wife and Anna’s mother Helene (Sidse Babett Knudsen), a former love interest of Jacob’s. And that’s just the beginning of the many unexpected connections.

All of a sudden, Jacob finds himself facing ghosts from his old life, which he had thought he’d left behind when he’d departed Denmark. Those old ties now compete with his existing life and obligations in India.

What’s more important? His relationships defined by traditional structures of society? Or the current connections that are more meaningful to his heart? Jacob is deeply torn; no matter what, someone is going to get hurt.

That’s a place where many people find themselves, especially with the expansion of what constitutes a “normal” life in today’s modern world. “Away from Her” features characters working their way through a similar predicament. As the song goes: “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.”

After the Wedding (Efter Brylluppet) (Danish, Swedish, Hindi and English with subtitles; 120 min.) Landmark’s Bethesda Row

4 out of 5 stars

‘Hot Fuzz’

The British talents behind the hit zombie flick “Shaun of the Dead” leverage their monstrous success to make “Hot Fuzz,” a supercharged cop movie set and made in Britain. It’s a lot of fun and doesn’t take itself seriously. The creative action sequences simultaneously parody and pay homage to well-known police capers from the United States (notably “Point Break” and “Bad Boys II”), as well as some from Europe and Asia.

In London, Sgt. Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg, also co-writer) is simply too good at his job, making him unpopular because his high arrest record makes everybody else looks bad. So the super-cop is transferred to the sleepy village of Sanford in Gloucestershire. At least he makes a friend in his not-so bright and overweight partner, PC Danny Butterman (Nick Frost), the son of Inspector Frank Butterman, (Jim Broadbent).

Poor Nick is bored stiff and frustrated. When he does see suspicious activity, his colleagues dismiss him. They say he’s looking for connections indicating guilt when in a small town, everybody knows each other. But everybody may not be who they first seem to be. Even if Nick’s theories are wrong, perhaps he should be paranoid.

Writer-director Edgar Wright propels the story with brisk editing and fast-paced direction. Apparently, the allure of an enjoyable British cop action flick helped gather rather impressive supporting talent. The roster includes Timothy Dalton, Martin Freeman, Cate Blanchett, and Steve Coogan (the last two uncredited).

Make no mistake: As an unabashed comedy, “Hot Fuzz” is a refreshing change of pace from all the serious drama typical of the foreign films finding U.S. distribution. Yet “Hot Fuzz” also shares a theme with the more sober films “Away from Her” and “After the Wedding.” The characters must choose between the competing loyalties demanded by blood family members (in this case, Danny’s father) versus a chosen family member (Nick, Danny’s “brother”).

Hot Fuzz (English; 121 min.) Landmark’s Bethesda Row

4 out of 5 stars

Repertory Notes

Please see International Film Clips for detailed listings available at press time.

Maryland Film Festival It’s time for another trip to Baltimore for movies and more from May 3 to 6 as part of the annual Maryland Film Festival. The Tent Village, across from the Charles Theater, offers free panels on filmmaking with director guests. Attendees even get free breakfast and lunch. International screenings include “Brand Upon the Brain!” (directed by Guy Maddin of Canada), “East of Euclid” (Jeff Solylo, Canada), “I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone” (Tsai Ming-liang, Taiwan), “On a Tightrope” (Petr Lom, Canada/Norway, set in China), “Syndromes and a Century” (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand), and “War/Dance” (Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine, United States, set in Uganda). (410) 752-8083, www.mdfilmfest.com

AFI Silver Theatre AFI Silver this month features its Chinese Film Festival (May 3-7), with new works from the world’s third largest film producer, including Hong Kong; 50 Years of Janus Films-Part 1 (May 12-July); the John Wayne Centennial (May 12-July 4) boasting classic Westerns, often set in the shadow of Mexico; and the Buster Keaton series (May 13-July 1), with silent comedies with live accompaniment from pianist Ray Brubacher or the group Boister. (301) 495-6700, www.afi.com/Silver

Korean Film Festival DC 2007 From May 4 to June 27, the Korean Film Festival runs at several venues. At the Freer, meet director Park Jin-pyo with “Too Young to Die” (May 18) and “You Are My Sunshine” (May 20). Other venues include AFI Silver and the National Museum of Natural History. (202) 357-2700, www.asia.si.edu/events/films.asp (301) 495-6700, www.afi.com/Silver (202) 633-1000, www.mnh.si.edu

Czech Modernism 1920–1940 From May 12 to June 17, discover what precipitated the Czech New Wave at the National Gallery of Art—presented in conjunction with the Czech Center, New York, as well as the National Film Archive in Prague and the Brooklyn Academy of Music. (202) 842-6799, www.nga.gov/programs/film.shtm

About the Author

Ky N. Nguyen is the film reviewer for The Washington Diplomat.

Last Edited on November 29, 1999