Julie Christie is the mesmerizing star of Away From Her, a tremulous adaptation of acclaimed Canadian storyteller Alice Munro's much-tougher-minded short fiction about love and Alzheimer's, ''The Bear Came Over the Mountain.'' And as if to make it easier for us to drink in as much of the actress' startling, mature beauty as possible, adapter/director Sarah Polley keeps the camera tight and close on Christie's magnificently planed face: Polley counts on those famous blue eyes to tell the tale of Fiona, a woman taking leave of her husband, Grant (Gordon Pinsent, with fine blue peepers himself), and their long, complicated life together as her memory slips.
Munro's story is about hanging on and letting go, and about the mysteries of what binds men and women together. Polley, herself a thoughtful actress (The Sweet Hereafter), retains the story's architecture the nursing home Fiona enters, the romantic bond she makes with a fellow resident (Michael Murphy), and Grant's connection with Marian (Olympia Dukakis), the blunt-talking, pragmatic wife of Fiona's new friend. But the filmmaker, making her feature debut, can't resist a young person's eager doodling on her elder's spare handiwork. The story now jigs forward and back, the nursing-home scenes have been expanded and quiver with somber concern, and Marian is quite another kind of woman off the page someone softer, and more movie-friendly. Munro's stark lily needed none of this gilding.