Aging film lovers first discovered her way back in 1966 as the delusional “princess” Coquelicot in King of Hearts. Three years later, the cult went public when Geneviève Bujold played pure brass Anne Boleyn in Anne of the Thousand Days. Many, many thousands of days have passed for all of us, and now, as she crosses into her seventh decade, the beautiful, vaguely enigmatic Bujold joins a swelling rank of great actresses playing formerly glorious women beset with dementia.
It’s hard to watch it happen. In the French Canadian film Still Mine, which opens this weekend, it’s almost painful to see Bujold’s character Irene Morrison pass into the shadow of the valley of Alzheimer’s. But it’s also difficult for aging children to watch the actress herself, once the personification of sprightly grace, becoming a too-convincing model for time’s triumph over grace and wit. It’s casting as metaphor, which is a kind of triumph for the filmmakers.
Ostensibly, though, the film is about Irene’s marriage to the crusty, benign, and ultimate DIY farmer Craig Morrison, played by James Cromwell, who has some experience in laconic patriarchal roles himself. Craig’s third-generation pride in self-reliance gets pitted against pink-fleshed bureaucrats who seem bent on denying him the last joys of providing a homemade shelter for his ailing wife. As she worsens, he stands more adamantly against The Man. Touching — and infuriating — as it is, though, this movie might have become a mawkish Libertarian treatise were it not for the awkward poetry of Bujold slowly losing her grip while Cromwell runs the full emotional gamut: resentment, tenderness, and fear. You could argue that the film melodramatizes the bitter part of a bittersweet equation, though at one point she bites his arm, literally giving the story teeth.
It’s likely that aging boomers, who took so much from the movies, will inspire a growing host of like-minded films: The last few years have brought us Michael Haneke’s Amour, Mike Mills’s Beginners, and too many films about crazy Brits in retirement homes or living in India. Enjoy this one before the mold is set. Still Mine might be a common story, but it will be hard for anybody who grew up watching Bujold’s career take her from Henry’s court to the Star Trek Academy not to be moved. If Coquelicot can age sadly, so can any of us.
Still Mine opens at Plaza de Oro (371 Hitchcock Wy.) on Friday, July 12.