Friday, August 3, 2012

Julie Christie in Away from Her

Julie Christie received her fourth Oscar nomination for playing Fiona Anderson, a woman suffering from Alzheimer's disease in Sarah Polley's movie, Away from Her. Julie basically swept the critics' awards and then all the other important awards: a Critics' Choice Award, a Golden Globe and eventually, the SAG. In the end, she only lost Bafta, which didn't seem to be a big deal for her as her win seemed all locked up but there was just something odd about Bafta not going for a legendary British actress (as expected). After all, Marion Cotillard pulled off the biggest surprise win in the Best Actress race for a very long time. I suppose Julie was eventually second, though I can even imagine that Ellen Page or Laura Linney got ahead of her if their fans were passionate enough. 

Away from Her is a beautifully told story and Sarah Polley's direction is very competent and proper and yet I felt that sometimes she was trying way too hard and that eventually led to some very clumsy and out-of-place moments. However, there's lots of truth and beauty in this piece, which may not become a classic, but is a film that deeply moves you. That Screenplay nomination was almost well-deserved, I'm not quite certain about it. Still, it was lovely to see the Academy recognise such a small film even if the recognition was restricted to its Academy-friendly elements. 

Julie Christie was one of these two elements and it's no wonder, really: she had already given many acclaimed and memorable performances, she had even won an Oscar previously for her work in Darling. The comeback win seemed to have been written in the stars. Julie had her ups and downs in her relationship with Hollywood, but her generation (which had always been very loving and supportive of her). I find it very hard to believe that Al Pacino, Warren Beatty or Jane didn't tick the box next to her name. It's hard to ignore Julie's enourmous talent or stunning beauty. Even when she gets a so-so part in a shitty movie like Afterglow, she can create something memorable, which is stunning at least in some parts.

Interesting enough, Julie's Fiona is actually not the main character of Away from Her (that has to be Gordon Pinsent's Grant) and she could even seem to be a mere plot device, one cannot argue that Julie's performance has the biggest impact on the viewer. Sarah Polley's direction clearly relies (sometimes way too much) on the fact that the viewers should also fall in love with Julie's character and that's why we get lots of close-ups. Sarah Polley occasionally seems so desperate to create a kind of spiritual atmosphere in this movie and she always pushes Julie out in front whenever she's afraid of her movie's not being beautiful enough. Julie Christie's beauty is limitless and that's probably why it's such a safe source of effect whenever the directors feels trouble. However, I felt that Christie porbably realised this and sometimes toned it down and added some humor and irony to the character.

Julie also did wonderfully at showing the stages of Alzheimer's and its effects on this particular human being. Even at the beginning, she suggests the fact that there's trouble so effortlessly and naturally. Actually, the scene where Fiona puts the frying pan into a frige could have been an overdone moment and yet Julie was able to play it with ease and avoided making that scene overdramatic. She doesn't portray this disease as if she was in a Greek tragedy and there are no loud moments like in Iris (a movie to which many like to compare Away from Her, even though they have their respective approaches to Alzheimer's are totally different) and Julie maximises her grace and dignity in this part. The silent breakdowns and tears are the most effective here and they make the movie incredibly painful to watch.

The way Julie portrays how Fiona gradually realises that something's wrong with her is just amazing and incredibly heartbreaking. Her big monologue when Fiona forgets the word wine is just brilliant. There isn't a false note in that scene she neither underplays nor overacts the pain and confusion of that scene. After all, a simple movement turns out to be a very intimate and puzzling confusion. She fills it with so much emotion and pain that it becomes almost unbearable to watch her.

However, the most painful scenes come in the middle of the film where Fiona and Grant have to say goodbye to each other for a month. These moments are incredibly haunting and indescribably beautiful and tender, thanks to the wonderful chemistry between Gordon Pinsent and Julie. There are pictures and moments that just stay in your moments: the couple's dance next to the Christmas tree, their discussion in the car, Pinsent's monologue on Julie's look where her beauty is just about perfectly described. Her face is so expressive that you can feel every emotion of Fiona with absolutely no dialogue. It's all in Julie's stunningly blue eyes. Julie wonderfully plays with her own body and does so with incredible subtlty.

For me the greatest scene is the one where Fiona asks Grant to make love to her one last time and than go away quickly. When Julie was lying in the bed, I couldn't help but think about her performance as Lara in Doctor Zhivago where Julie also played true love to perfection and in a way, Fiona and Grant are just as doomed as Lara and Yuri were. I don't think that Julie has ever been more beautiful than she was in this scene.

After this scene, Julie doesn't get much screentime and she becomes like a ghost in this film and her character indeed is away from her husband. It was stunning to me how brilliantly Julie built up this wall between the characters and actually, her lack of presence makes the effect of her performance even stronger (just like Sissy Spacek's in In the Bedroom which has a very similar Oscar story). As she said in her earlier monologue, Fiona is beginning to disappear and Julie portrays it with the same subtlety. You see her empty looks and that vital, beautiful, sexy woman turns out to be a broken old woman. That's why her last scene becomes such a cathartic one: for a moment that wall between Fiona and Grant seems to disappear and Fiona's old self comes to surface one last time. This moment becomes beautiful and effective because both actors avoid cheap sentimentality and that results in a truly effective ending

As Fiona Anderson, Julie Christie gives an amazing, heartbreaking performance that stays with you long after you finished watching the film. She portrays Fiona's pain and suffering with an incredible amount of grace and dignity and that's what makes this movie even more effective and heartwrenching. Although Julie's acting might be too subtle and seem too effortless for some, for me this is a true masterclass in acting, which is easily among the greatest achievements of this fantastic actress.

What do you think? 


Fritz said...

A beautiful performance but not truly outstanding for me.

Nues20 said...

Wow I really need to watch this!
Great review!
She sounds great

dinasztie said...

IMHO, Julie's not to be missed here. :) Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Marion Cotillard was outstanding, but Julie Christie gave the the best performance that year, in my opinion.


dinasztie said...

I rarely hear that Eddie but good to know Julie has her supporters. :))

Anonymous said...

Brilliant performance, she would have won easily in 2005, but I think that if she saw Marion's performance she knew she had no chance.

Louis Morgan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
moviefilm said...

I'm so sad, I missed the predictions. Never mind, I'm gonna write them now, out of the competition... :)

1) Marion Cotillard (that's a "must-win")
2) Julie Christie
3) Laura Linney
4) Ellen Page
5) Cate Blanchett

dinasztie said...

moviefilm: You are in the competition. :)

everyone: I'll make the rules clear (I guess I've never actually done that so it's high time). :) You can post the predictions until the fourth review. :) Whoever posted the ranking the earliest can pick the next year first and the later you have the correct ranking the later I'll do your chosen year. :)) E.g. moviefilm has the same predictions with JC and Alex but they posted theirs earlier so I'll do their chosen years first if they are correct. :)

Also: I have the right to sometimes overrule this if I can't get a certain movie early enough. :)

Anonymous said...

I liked this performance enough, but never felt nearly as enchanted by her as I felt the movie wanted me to be. Christie's an actress I really need to see more of.

I don't see this derailing a Cotillard victory, and even Linney could sneak in ahead of Julie because I know you love her.

joe burns said...

I thought she was great, though a rewatch is needed...

I agree with Derek: Although you loved her, I'm sure she won't unseat Cotillard. But I'm not sure if my prediction for Linney being second will come true...

Do Cate or Ellen next!!!

dinasztie said...

I'm sorry Joe, I almost finished Laura's review and I worked on her review for a long time so I'd like to post it now. I was planning to review Cate last anyway and even Marion might come before Ellen, sorry. You'll have to make do with taking pleasure in me doing the year you requested. :)))