The Life Before Her Eyes: beautifully crafted, beautifully written, beautifully performed (review)

life

Streaming movies on Netflix continues to be a source of discovery. It allows me (and you, if you sign up) to try any number of films I probably would never get around to, if I knew of them at all. Sometimes they’re duds (I tried 1994’s The Favor, for instance, and couldn’t bear more than ten or fifteen minutes), but sometimes they’re treasures.

The Life Before Her Eyes is a treasure.

Based on a novel by Laura Kasischke, it stars Uma Thurman as Diana “Dee” McFee, a teacher in a small New England town. Diana is married and has a daughter who shows signs of being as unmanageable as she, herself, was as a teen.

We get to see exactly how wild she was in flashbacks, with the marvelous Evan Rachel Wood perfect as the young Diana. (Wood as the young Thurman? Brilliant and inspired casting). We get to see the shape of her life then in order to compare it to her life as an adult. And we also get to see the horrible tragedy that haunts her as an adult and threatens her happiness, and even her sanity.

The story is powerfully moving, adapted to the screen by Emil Stern. The alternation between the past and present is graceful, and both actresses give amazing performances of real depth and feeling, without veering into melodrama. Director Vadim Perelman (House of Sand and Fog) and cinematographer Paweł Edelman provide lyrical visuals full of lovely everyday images potent, but not over-stuffed, with symbolism.

The Life Before Her Eyes is a wise film with a lot to say about life, the things we hold sacred, who we are at the best and worst of times, and the impact a few moments can have on eternity.

life

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