Sarah Polley's devastating directorial debut AWAY FROM HER (****) is a quiet emotional powerhouse of a drama that most people will probably never see. A tough, honest, and sad film about growing old and losing one's sanity to Alzheimer's disease, AWAY FROM HER is perfectly written, acted, and directed. Already an accomplished actress, Polley confidently establishes herself as one of the best up and coming filmmakers working today. Her writing is sensitive yet never maudlin and her low-key, well-observed directing style has much in common with fellow Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan (THE SWEET HEREAFTER), who serves as a producer on AWAY FROM HER. Julie Christie, in an astonishing performance, is Fiona, a sweet-natured wife who's world comes crashing down around her as the begining stages of Alzheimer's start to appear. Her loving but emotionally conflicted husband Grant (the amazing Gordon Pinsent) doesn't want to send his wife to a nursing home but knows that he can't take care of Fiona alone. They haven't spent more than a day away from each other in close to 45 years and one of the requirements of the hospital is that no patient receives visitors for the first 30 days. Once admitted, Fiona starts to lose herself to the disease even further; she develops a unique friendship with another patient that has ramifications on the lives of both Grant, and a set of their friends. The depth of the story and the tenderness of the writing lends AWAY FROM HER an edge over other stories dealing with similar conceits; Polley has a naturalistic way with her actors that clearly stems from her own effortless acting abilities. It's sort of a companion piece (though not nearly as funny) to this year's black comedy THE SAVAGES, a film that deals with old age and tough family decisions. But AWAY FROM HER works as an intimate drama more than anything else, with Christie tearing up the screen with reserved panache. She's almost a lock to win Best Actress at this year's Oscars. Pinsent, an actor who is new to me, registers just as strongly in a slow-burn performance filled with guilt, sadness, and finally, redemption. AWAY FROM HER is a frightening movie in many ways; you get the sense that this sort of story is happening right now, around the corner and down the block from your own house. Having just got engaged and now looking forward to the future with my fiance, AWAY FROM HER is the sort of film that reminds you to grab life by the horns and live it to the fullest. There are no guarantees. It's a great little film and a knock-out of a debut for Polley.