There’s a particular subgenre of melodrama – one of the purest kinds – that focuses on a woman, usually a mother, as she is diagnosed and has to come to terms with a debilitating or life-threatening condition, following her through one dark passage after another as she sets things in place for her children and family, in scenes that are so terrible and private that you have to look away. Over the past half-decade or so, that impulse has been absorbed and somewhat transformed by Breaking Bad, but if Still Alice is anything to go by, it’s started to make a return to a more classical mould, even if this particular film also has quite a post-cinematic feel at times as well. As in so many of its progenitors, it’s about fighting the shame of being unwell as much as the disease itself, as Alice (Julianne Moore) suddenly finds herself dislocated from her career as a Professor of Linguistics at Columbia University after she is diagnosed with a rare type of early onset Alzheimers that is likely to be inherited by at least one of her three children, although only her youngest daughter Lydia (Kristen Stewart) chooses not to have herself that tested. In some ways, that premise is so harrowing and traumatic that the moment-to-moment ebb and flow of the film doesn’t really have to be, immersing us in Alice’s relationship with her husband John (Alec Baldwin), also a Columbia academic, as her lifeworld starts to gradually, imperceptibly become more and more atonal, punctuated by wanderings and ramblings that get longer and longer, words and images that get harder and harder to recall and retain - a situation that’s even more poignant in that Alice’s linguistic specialiy is early childhood language acquisition, a mystery she tries to mimic in order to reacquire a vocabulary and syntax that gradually starts to elude her. As a result, the film gets more dissonant as it proceeds, gradually dissociating Alice from her familiar, quotidian life, until each scene feels somewhat jettisoned or cast adrift from the one before – there is a very natural shift in focus to the Long Island shore – which is disorienting but also strangely liberating and even gently comic, as Alice’s condition proceeds by freeing her more and more from the burden of being aware of it. In that sense, it’s a portrait of Alzheimer’s from the inside – or a hypothetical portrait – as well as a string of small performances from Julianne Moore, or even an ensemble drama in which she’s the only person, especially towards the end. Over the course of the film, she seems to cycle through twenty years of acting, recalling all her roles in the same way Alice comes to recall her family, haptically, through her body – the opening scenes could be taken straight from Short Cuts – enabling the film in turn to move from a quite classical, even staid cinematic approach to a more free-flowing post-cinematic sensibility in which there are moods but no real memories, vagaries of tone and affect but no stable spatio-temporal or narrative base beneath them. All of which to say is that Alzheimers starts to feel less exceptional, and that Alice starts to feel more attuned to an ambience that the other characters simply aren’t sensitive enough to experience, which is tragic in its own way – harrowing at times – but also refreshing and respectful, which seems to have been the spirit of Lisa Genova’s original novel as well.