As depictions of the elderly and the effects of Alzheimer’s go, the gentle Canadian drama “Still Mine” is a lot closer to “The Notebook” than last year’s bleak, Oscar-nominated French film “Amour.”
There’s a tenderness about it that softens the blow of tragedy, a grumpy whimsy that lessens the sting of “Someday, that’ll be me.” James Cromwell and Genevieve Bujold bring great sensitivity to the Morrisons, a New Brunswick farm couple whose world is shrinking and whose lives — they’re in their 80s — are winding down. Irene is forgetting things. Craig isn’t, and as active as he still is — doing chores, tending to cattle, raising strawberries and milling his own lumber — he figures he can handle whatever adjustment their dotage requires. He’s strong enough for both, he thinks. Until the fence breaks and the cows get out.
“Heard about the cows,” his son (Ronan Rees) mentions in passing. “Everybody’s heard about the cows,” Craig grumps. They’ve raised seven kids, a couple of whom also farm and live close by.
But while they’re not hiding Irene’s steady slide toward senility from them, Craig and Irene aren’t updating the kids daily and aren’t seeking medical advice that Craig figures won’t be of much value at this stage.
One thing Craig figures he can control is their living situation. Their place “no longer works for us.” Irene needs less space, no stairs and maybe a kitchen where the risk of her burning the place down is removed. He promises Irene one last house, a self-built frame home on a pretty corner of their farm.
Don’t try telling him he’s too old to be messing with chainsaws, tractors, cutting and finishing his own lumber. “Way I look at it, old age is just an abstraction,” he says. One thing that isn’t abstract is the permitting process, the ways one gets permission to do something today that in Craig’s youth he just went out and did, “the way my dad taught me.”
And that’s where “Still Mine” turns into a battle of wills between a man of unerring competence — we see Craig cut the wood, saw the joists and boards and slowly raise the house — and the officious folk who post “Stop Work” notices on his project.
“Still Mine” is more sentimental than unblinking in its depiction of old age. Bujold’s warmth hasn’t faded as the wrinkles, grey hair and blemishes move in. And Cromwell might be entirely too spry to fit most people’s idea of 87. But he makes Craig wholly human, someone whose temper flares at both bureaucrats and the wife whose infirmity frustrates and frightens him. It’s a sometimes moving movie of modest ambitions and simple charms, and sometimes that’s enough.