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|Index||78 reviews in total|
I had the privilege of seeing this film at its World Premiere this weekend at the Toronto Film Festival. From the very opening sequence, this picture draws you in with its sheer beauty. The cinematography is terrific and at some points even terrifying (in a breath taking way) but what impressed me most was the dialog. Everything seemed so real, which played up every detail to me and made the picture all the more engrossing. Uma Thurman is top notch in this but i believe that Evan Rachel Wood really makes it because honestly, who else could we expect to play the teen angst better than her? The relationship between Eva Amurri's Maureen and Wood's Diana is so realistic in every situation and much of that credit has to go to Emil Stern's adaptation. There are so many themes that run deep throughout this movie, and the ever pressing scare of school shootings makes this hit home really really hard. This is an amazing film that will touch every single emotion and leave you thinking about it for days. Go see this movie whenever you get the chance. It is an intensely beautiful and moving film and most definitely one of the best I have seen so far this year.
The sophisticated Perelman/Kasischke sensibilities will not be for all markets; this is essentially a rather highbrow film, with a surprise ending which will spoil it for some who want their movies to be straightforward, but which is essential to its philosophical heart. Thurman is outstanding as the older, pensive Diana, and Wood perhaps even better as the self-confident, rebellious younger version. Perelman's direction captures the dreamy lyricism contrasting with a sometimes brutal realism that is also found in Kasischke's beautiful and poetic 2002 novel. There won't be many better, genuinely adult movies this year, and most likely it will be ignored.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I don't usually write or like reactive comments but in some cases I
feel so strongly about previous comments that I can't keep quiet. And
there are serious spoilers ahead.
"Copycat"? Last time I checked, "copycat" is used when you imitate slavishly, you just reproduce some previous thing. Now, if someone can't see the differences between "The Sixth Sense," "Elephant," and "The Life Before Her Eyes," maybe that person should watch more movies before writing. Taking another idea and putting a different spin on it has been done forever, since art began, in paintings, music, literature, all arts. That's creativity, when you put something personal on an old story. Now that person might think that we only need one film about a high school shooting and its consequences. We already have "Elephant;" why do we need more? It's not like we keep having shootings, right? I would also be really sad if I thought that the subjects treated in this movie are only interesting to academics.
"Overly-convenient plot points"? Well, it's all her imagination of her own life before dying. You can't expect realism when it all has this dreamy, life passing before your eyes feeling (with a clever twist). Of course the reminders will keep popping up and flooding her consciousness. Besides, since when all films have to be realistic? On one level, the film represents the guilt and remorse experienced by someone who keeps trying to forget a traumatic incident. But sometimes the hardest you try, the more things keep reminding you of it. The film could have interwoven a brief scene imitating a shock of memory, instead it presents it from an external source, which is how you sometimes feel the memory of traumatic events, as something that is coming from outside, something that you can't prevent or avoid, like a radio that tells us what we've been doing the best effort to put out of our minds.
"A LOT of contrived pathos"? It's about a person dying!!!!!
"An exploitation of columbine"? See comment above about "coypcat."
"Metaphor-laden"? Amazingly, it's only the professional critics who are invoking this one. I really don't understand critics anymore. It's true that speaking plainly has its advantages. But since when do all films have to follow the same rules? Some artists thrive using metaphors. Let them use them! Or maybe they actually are annoyed because they understand the metaphors and we all know that the more unintelligible a film is, the better. Especially if we DO think that we understand them, because that means that we're part of the intelligent elite that can appreciate those films.
"Confusing" and "tiring flashback-flash forward method"? The film follows the pathway of memory, which goes through associations (metonymies, metaphors, repetitions, similarities) and not chronology. Now, wouldn't it be so much less hard if all the past were first and the future later? I guess we're too intelligent so we're above the metaphors but putting pieces in the right order is haaard!
Finally, the jewel: "An overwrought and patently offensive anti-abortion drama"? Clearly, this is coming from a man (Lou Lumenick, New York Post). And he might not have any friends that have had abortions. I'm pro-choice but I know that all of my friends who did it had feelings of remorse (not guilt, although that could be a component). What do you think? That a woman just pretends that it never happened, that she never questions if she could have done something differently. That doesn't mean you're making an anti-abortion diatribe. It's just dealing with a hard, traumatic memory. I'm so sorry that this critic thinks that talking about those feelings implies a moral choice. Talk about manicheism.
I'm not saying that the film is flawless. Maybe it is too precious, even though it has a good excuse for it. It's a collection of idealized moments of past and future passing through someone's imagination. You could certainly find fault in the way that Evan Rachel Wood is sexualized; I mean, the camera really loves her and it's clearly from a male perspective. Others might be able to live with such obvious exponent of "the male gaze."
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
*** MAJOR Spoiler **** The following is a significant spoiler, but
important to understand the movie, but also many of the negative
Surprisingly, and despite the fairly obvious title, most people have not understood the plot. The movie is about a girl that imagines her future life in the few minutes before being shot. So the whole part of the movie where you see old Diana is in fact a young girl's imagination hence some of the critic about the character of old Diana. Furthermore, because there is not 15 years difference between the two periods, you do see on purpose mobile phones or flat screens in the "young days".
For the rest a very good movie in my opinion.
I also saw this at Toronto, and visually speaking, this movie is one of
the best looking films of the year. This director's first film was the
great "House of Sand and Fog" and here he confirms how talented he is.
Uma Thurman hasn't been better as she plays a woman who is now well
into adulthood, living in the small town that she grew up in, with a
professor husband and a little girl. I love the way Perelman uses
flashbacks here to inform us about Thurman as a teen. In many films,
flashbacks can yank us around and cut tension, but here Evan Rachel
Wood is so good that the two characters are seamlessly interwoven in a
way that we are treated to a complex character study of a grown woman
who is driving herself mad with regret and anxiety and guilt. There's
nothing more fascinating than watching conflict that is internal rather
than external, and Thurman here is so good, I hope she is remembered
come Oscar season.
Just a solid movie in every way. Good score from James Horner, the guy who did the music for "A Beautiful Mind" and "House of Sand and Fog", equally lovely scores in their own right.
I was very pleased with this film throughout, even before watching the surprising, extremely good ending. Unfortunately, that's all I want to say, for fear of spoiling it for everyone. But, take my word for it, "WOW". This film was really quite a treat. It has been a while since I have enjoyed a story so much. The entire film was very intense, and wonderfully put together doing a great job balancing the past and present without causing confusion. Being male, I have to also mention that this is not just a movie for women. I had heard word that it was being categorized as a "women's movie" and I have to disagree. Men and women alike can enjoy this one.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Evan Rachel Wood has finally found the role that will define her as the
most talented actress of her generation, a role so demanding in its
nature that it requires her to show both the details in the everyday
life of teenagers and the intense emotional turmoil at the core of
The film balances the duality of life: its beauty and frailty, its highs and lows, the precarious balance that every human must deal with while facing adulthood. Diana is a superbly written character, one that is not simple in its nature, but detailed, organic portrayal of a girl who has too much fire in her to help her fit in, but who ironically longs what her best friend has. She is not complete unless she spends time with Maureen, and there is true, genuine affection between these two girls. They know each other's dreams, troubles, hopes, and disappointments. The beauty of the film is how natural the dialog flows as we reach the surprising ending.
In general, the film is a masterpiece, a work of art that explores the possibilities of life, the repercussions of a single moment, the way, we must make choices and determine what we think might be best for us, and yet, what if, we had chosen differently. This is a movie that turns clichés upside down, giving us a new perspective on how refreshing storytelling can be if approached with a original design. Superb photography and a haunting score add to the overall effect, but it all rests on the shoulders of a very talented young woman, a girl who can tell us stories in seconds with just a look... and she brings to mind those cinema stars of the past, before CGI started stealing our creativity and numbing our minds and hearts.
"In Bloom" is bound to move you beyond tears because it appeals to both the heart and the mind, never allowing us to forget how precious life can be.
Vadim Perelman's 'The Life Before Her Eyes' is just as powerful but
equally complex as his harrowing 'The House of Sand and Fog'. This
movie is just as engaging and at times, also confusing. Perelman uses
fascinating visuals. The film opens with a montage of various beautiful
flowers (that have a symbolic definition) and then follows two girls to
a highschool bathroom. The shootout scene takes place only within the
bathroom while we hear gunfire in the background but for me this movie
has achieved in that first sequence what the pretentious 'Elephant'
didn't (which was also about a highschool shootout). While the focus is
on the two girls, you literally see the fear in their eyes as their
'nice' day is interrupted and their lives are threatened.
On the technical side, it is a very well crafted film. The cinematography, the music, the sets and editing are all top notch. The visuals are detailed and pretty much every frame has something to say.
The ending is different from that of the book but I think both of them rise the same question. What would have you done if you were in Diana's shoes? The question isn't easy to answer because you never actually know unless you are facing such circumstance. That is the test of one's courage. Emil Stern's screenplay is dazzling. The story doesn't follow a linear structure but there's a reason for that. Dialogues are laden with interesting philosophy. Perelman beautifully tackles numerous themes such as friendship, post-traumatic stress, motherhood and abortion among others.
The cast features three powerful performances: by Uma Thurman, Evan Rachel Wood and Eva Amurri. Thurman's portrayal of Diana's complexity, devotion to her family and inability to cope with her past is spot on. Wood and Amurri deliver very natural performances as two girls going through the usual teen problems but dealing with it differently because 'one has what the other doesn't' and that way they help each other. Their on screen friendship is very convincing hinting that they might actually be good friends in real life. Then there's the bathroom scene which could have easily gone wrong had it been played by lesser actresses but this is one of the most powerful scenes in a movie of recent time and one only has to watch it to understand its impact.
'The Life Before Her Eyes' is not an easy film to follow and those who are looking for something simple or light may feel let down but on the other hand it's a very strong movie. Perelman has hit the mark again just like he did with 'The House of Sand and Fog'. He seems to be intrigued by tragic stories and bringing them on screen. He does one hell of a job, again.
One of the main reasons for picking this up is the star pairing of Uma
Thurman and Evan Rachel Wood playing the same character Diana in a tale
that explores how lives get changed and affected in a post Columbine
styled school shooting. Directed by Vadim Perelman who also helmed The
House of Sand and Fog, The Life Before Her Eyes is adapted from the
novel by Laura Kasischke, and the first scene sets up the hook
beautifully - what if you're caught in a dead end with your best
friend, and a gunman?
The narrative unfolds in non-linear fashion, which splits the story into two separate threads, one with the younger teenage Diana (Rachel Evan Wood) and her BFF Maureen (Eva Amurri) discussing the usual problems, issues and dreams a teenager would have, and their aspirations in life, and the other putting its focus on the adult Diana (Uma Thurman) now married to a professor and having to raise her child Emma (Gabrielle Brennan) who's quite a handful to handle, providing some mean reminiscence into her own past that she hopes she's able to steer her kid out from that doomed past.
In character pieces like this, both lead actresses shine in their respective spheres, with Evan Rachel Wood playing yet again an impetuous youth living life her own way, never hesitating to dabble in sex and drugs, and basically the making all the mistakes that one can make as a teen. The chemistry shared with Eva Amurri was excellently convincing so much so that with the pivotal scene in the bathroom, you're put on the edge of your seat as to the choices that both will make. Which you can partake in if you put yourself in similar shoes, with a gun pointed at you and a chance to live, or die, per your wishes.
Uma Thurman tackles her mom role with aplomb, juggling raising a kid with trying to avoid her past which is slowly coming back through flashbacks no thanks to the 15th anniversary of the fateful day in school. It may seem that she's living that perfect life, but the cracks soon show up and little things become opportunities for reminiscence. I suppose as a parent you will try that utmost best to avoid your kid repeating the same mistakes you have made, and will be on the lookout for warning signs. Thurman brings to the table that level of maturity, as well as a sense of paranoia as she tries hard to forget her past.
Vadim Perelman created a film that's basically very dreamlike in quality as it deals with themes such as conscience and self-preservation, and crafted the key bathroom scene with ingenuity that keeps you constantly guessing how it will all play out, and pulling his punches at the right time to keep up that level of suspense right up to the end. Production values are purposefully split down the middle to differentiate the landscapes between the two time periods to reflect the lifestyle and mood of Diana and of course to throw clues in addition to what's being done by the narrative, with a haunting soundtrack throughout courtesy of James Horner.
Some may not like the how the finale played out but I thought it was refreshingly different from the usual narrative twist attempts. Some may deem it not plausible, but I tend to consider it not as being performed during a single moment, but more of being worked on over a period of time. After all, an idea isn't just conceived and worked on overnight - we tend to think about it at some lengths not necessarily always during the same sitting. Even if you have an inkling of how it will play out, it's the delivery of key scenes and the wonderful dramatic performances that make this way above average. Recommended!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The closing night film at the just-concluded 2008 Phoenix Film Festival
was as wonderful as its opener, "The Visitor." "The Life Before Her
Eyes" was directed by Vadim Perelman, from an adapted screenplay based
on the novel of the same name by Laura Kasischke. (Perelman directed
the moving, tragic "House of Sand and Fog," released in 2003, which we
raved about at the time.) "Before Her Eyes," like last year's Sandra
Bullock vehicle "Premonition," is what I call a women's film--which is
decidedly not the same thing as a chick flick. It's a serious look at
issues women face, through a woman's eyes, from women's perspectives.
That's not to say men won't like and be thoughtfully stimulated by it
too. The film is visually poetic right from the credits, with
images--close-ups of flowers melting away through lenswork or computer
tricks or both--that herald the sensuous feel of the whole film.
The film's axis is a massacre at a high school by a disturbed young man--hardly an untopical event these days. It follows a couple of female, teen-age best friends up to and well beyond the bloody events of that day. Rachel Evan Wood plays "Diana," one of the two girls--a restless, sexually active, alienated, self-willed and somewhat confused young woman, whose friend Maureen (Eva Amurri) presents a counterweight to those qualities.
Uma Thurman plays Wood's character as a grown-up--an art history teacher with a husband, a child, and traumatic memories of the day that changed everything. We'll avoid spoilers, since right up to the end of this film, the viewer has been led to look at the film one way, and it may not be the right way. That said, there's a "Sophie's Choice" element at its crux, though one less gratuitous in its framing and in its consequences than I've always considered that hinge of Styron's book (and of the film made from it) to be. However, against the decisive turning point represented by the massacre, the film examines what seem to be a number of uniquely female preoccupations and dilemmas: For instance, there's the question of sex. Men are generally all impulse, expressing the conatus of Leibnizian philosophy; women are the gatekeepers. Women, adolescent girls deal with the good girl-bad girl issue: They can say no, and are expected by parents, society to do so; but how long can they and keep a man they may want? So they deal with guilt. They deal with the pressure, and then, often the rejection, even by the same source of the pressure--young boys who then taunt their conquests as "sluts." The blood of their period is akin to, can lead to, the blood of an abortion: this is the blood of Christian-viewed sin, not of "the redemptive blood of the lamb." Another item: Men, for the most part, hold power of life and death over other living, "born" people--they send others to war, to their executions. Women hold that power over the unborn. Maybe it's a fair division. But maybe no one would like to have either power, if they could avoid it.
Women are taught, socialized to make a relationship, a marriage, a home. If those things fall apart they are told, in myriad ways, to look first to themselves to blame. Even with a philandering husband. Even with a child who's simply programmed to behave, act out, resist, rebel; among other reasons, as part of the eternal cycle of mother-daughter conflict. As Thurman's Diana says, "I thought if I cared for my child, helped my students, loved my husband, everything would be all right." But doing those things, the right thing, doesn't necessarily control outcomes, bring ultimate happiness.
As an art teacher, the lessons Diana is teaching focus on Gauguin--like the art references in Philip Roth's early, seminal novel Goodbye Columbus. I'll leave the point of that reference, that inclusion, for the viewer to explore for themselves, as with the Blake poem Diana reads to her daughter to soothe her to sleep. Likewise the ubiquitous imagery of water in the film: in one scene, young Diana, getting wet in the spray from a fountain, wonders where the boundary is between its mist and the air it is dissipating into. Where is the boundary between consciousness and not-being? Between life in its vibrancy and the ebbing away of life? (Echoes of Richard Linklater's "Waking Life.") There are a few false notes, as in the somewhat hokey dialogue about "the heart being the strongest muscle in the body." Some other witty exchanges reminded me of the improbably smart, ready-for-the Dorothy-Parker-book-of-quips utterances by Ellen Page's precocious teen in last year's phenomenon "Juno." But they're infrequent, and dissolve quickly in the potent, larger mix. The title and final plot twist are in fact a hoary cliché--and a clue ... though one most people, I feel, are unlikely to crack. (Another clue is to be found in the soundtrack, in an old Zombies song heard repeatedly, sometimes in different forms, in the film.) At least, I didn't--the whole weight, momentum of the film are so forceful on behalf of a different supposition. A gorgeous, thoughtful, disturbing film, one that--like "Being There," last year's "Perfume," "2001: A Space Odyssey"--you can hardly imagine being anywhere near as effective in a non-visual medium. Which is why we have film these days, and why, in The Midtown Messenger at least, you'll find it analyzed as the serious "literature" it is. (For more film-osophy of this ilk, as well as "Fake News," humor, satire, news and opinion, visit the online version of our print publication, or google it and click on the link for its blog.)
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