The Life Before Her Eyes (original title: In Bloom)
(Editor's note: This review of "The Life Before Her Eyes" was written for its festival screening when the film was originally titled "In Bloom.")
Toronto International Film Festival
TORONTO -- While the title may conjure up images of awakenings and/or horticulture, "The Life Before Her Eyes" is actually set against the backdrop of a tragic, Columbine-like high school shooting.
The second feature by "The House of Sand and Fog" director Vadim Perelman, this dense, disturbing thriller, based on Laura Kasischke’s more tellingly-titled "The Life Before Her Eyes," intermingles the past and present, and the real and the imagined, to intriguing if occasionally head-scratching effect.
Boasting two terrific performances by Uma Thurman and Evan Rachel Wood as the adult and teenage versions of the same character, the film was not yet attached to an American distributor prior to its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival.
That situation is certain to be remedied in the not-too-distant future.
In the girls room of a Connecticut high school, best friends Diana, the classic "bad girl" (Evan Rachel Wood) and Maureen, the classic "good girl" (Eva Amurri) are checking themselves out in the mirror when they hear the sound of machine gun fire and screaming students down the hall.
As they figure out what they should do, the assailant, a male classmate, enters, pointing the weapon in their direction and informing them that one of them will have to die.
Before we are allowed to see the outcome, the film moves ahead to the 15th anniversary of the shooting, which brings back a flood of memories, both painful and otherwise, for an adult Diana (Thurman).
Married, with an 8-year-old daughter, to the older college professor (Brett Cullen) she first met as a high school student, Diana becomes increasingly haunted by the encroaching past.
And, as the film progresses, it becomes clear that Diana’s life has been compromised by not-so-repressed feelings of guilt and remorse.
Or does it?
Without revealing too much more, let’s just say the already thin line between perception and reality further disintegrates in the minutes leading up to an ending that’s destined to generate discussion, whatever the final interpretation.
Although Perelman, a filmmaker with a weakness for big doses of natural symbolism, layers on all the imagery a bit thick here, in hindsight, an argument can be made for the material, adapted by Emil Stern, lending itself to a heavier-handed visual approach.
For her part, Thurman convincingly pulls off a tricky part, while Wood also impresses as a bright, attractive young woman who is alternately hurt and emboldened by her "loose" reputation.
Good, too, is Amurri as her accepting, church-going girlfriend.
Technical attributes, from cinematographer Pawel Edelman’s constantly fluid camerawork to James Horner’s low-key score, provide an appropriate, darkly-tinted flourish.
THE LIFE BEFORE HER EYES
Director: Vadim Perelman
Writer: Emil Stern
Based on the book, "The Life Before Her Eyes" by Laura Kasischke
Producers: Vadim Perelman, Aimee Peyronnet, Anthony Katagas
Executive producers: Todd Wagner, Mark Cuban, Marc Butan
Director of photography: Pawel Edelman
Production designer: Maia Javan
Music: James Horner
Co-producers: Chase Bailey, Couper Samuelson, Mike Upton, Ian McGloin
Costume designer: Hala Bahmet
Editor: David Baxter
Adult Diana: Uma Thurman
Young Diana: Evan Rachel Wood
Maureen: Eva Amurri
Running time -- 90 minutes
No MPAA rating