A beautiful elderly couple are forced to confront Fiona’s (Julie Christie) problems with memory. Always stylish and active, she begins to neglect her appearance and do odd things. She loses her way while cross-country skiing in a familiar terrain; at nightfall, Grant (Gordon Pinsent) finds her frightened and frozen. She decides that she must go into a nursing home, but Grant is horrified to learn that, in order for her to adapt, he may not visit for an entire month. When he finally returns, bearing a bouquet of flowers and hoping for her warm affection, he is stunned to find Fiona pleasant but indifferent to his presence. Instead, she is preoccupied, even infatuated with Aubrey (Michael Murphy), who silently occupies a wheelchair. Fiona is able to interpret Aubrey’s moods and desires.

At first, Grant is hurt and jealous, but gradually he accepts Fiona’s need to be important for someone. Haunted by guilt over an affair with a student years ago, Grant wonders if Fiona is somehow retaliating. When Aubrey’s wife Marian (Olympia Dukakis) brings Aubrey home because she cannot afford the care, Fiona is despondent. He approaches Marian about returning Aubrey to the center. Thrown together by their absent yet present spouses, Marian and Grant indulge in a half-hearted affair. By the time, Aubrey returns, Fiona may have forgotten him, but she still knows Grant and appears to recall his distant infidelity though so much else is lost. But he still loves her and together they can find reasons to laugh.


A sensitive and mostly faithful rendering of the Alice Munro story, The Bear Came Over the Mountain, which is graced by brilliant performances, especially that of Christie who is nominated for an Academy award. Shot against the backdrop of a beautiful rural setting in a Canadian winter and spring, the film’s use of seasons and scenery underscores the inexorable march of time and the tragic loss of memory and life.

Grant’s torment at leaving his beloved wife in an institution is disturbingly real, as is his guilt. However, for anyone familiar with dementia, credibility is stretched by Fiona’s own decision to leave home, the rule of no visits for a month, her selective recollections, and the relatively harmonious ending. The brisk ridigity of the director seems overdone, but it allows for dramatic contrast with the warm sympathy of a young nurse who knows that dementia causes at least two people to suffer from what is remembered and what is not.




The Film Farm and Foundry Films

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