Dir: Vadim Perelman. US. 2007. 90 mins.
Four years after his directorial debut The House Of Sand And Fog, Vadim Perelman returns with In Bloom, an adaptation of Laura Kasischke's novel The Life Before Her Eyes which is an even more ambitious challenge than its predecessor. But some books are just too cerebral to transfer to the screen, and, despite Perelman's best efforts, Kasischke's conceit does not make for a coherent film experience.
Like other recent narrative experiments November and Marc Forster's Stay, both fantasy scenarios played out in a split second of extreme trauma, In Bloom turns conventional time and reality on their heads to create a dreamlike puzzle, here revolving around a high-school shooting 15 years in the past.
And like November and Stay, it will have a hard time finding an audience, especially since its protagonists are all female and the very female audiences who would be inclined to see it will be aggravated by its structure.
Perelman unquestionably has a sure hand, and on a scene-by-scene basis, there is much to admire here, not lest of which is the film's visual radiance. But he is also prone to pretentiousness and overloads the film with visual and literary symbolism that wears the patience.
The film begins impressively with the aforementioned school shooting. In the sleepy Connecticut community of Briar Hill, a teenage boy takes a machine gun and murders 15 of his schoolmates and teachers before cornering two 17 year-olds in the girl's bathroom - wild and rudderless Diana (Wood) and her best friend, more conservative and religious Maureen (Amurri).
Before we know their fate, the story fast forwards 15 years to the anniversary week of the massacre. The adult Diana (Thurman) is a happily married art teacher living with husband and daughter in a large, comfortable house in Briar Hill whose routine is interrupted by recollections of the event which traumatized her early life.
In flashback, she remembers Maureen, a devout Christian and devoted friend who had become an unlikely ally in the confusing teenage years. The two cut class, talk about boys, sneak into absent neighbours' swimming pools and speculate on their futures.
Occasionally, the narrative returns to the bathroom that fatal day and edges along the conversation between the shooter and the two girls. At one point, he tells the girls to choose which one of them should die. Maureen volunteers to be killed, Diana falters.
Meanwhile adult Diana is watching as her life unravels around her. Her daughter, she discovers, is found to be disappearing from school for long periods, and she witnesses her husband kissing one of his students.
Back in their teen years, we witness Diana becoming increasingly wild, sleeping around, getting pregnant, having an abortion and clashing with Maureen about her values. But Maureen is always supportive, offering her the unconditional friendship she has never had from her embattled mother.
By the film's conclusion, past and present have blurred into one another, and the trick of the film - the title of Kasische's book gives it away really - becomes apparent, although Perelman and 2929 could work together to render the revelation a little more obvious. At present, the final assault of images and moments from Diana's life, real or imagined, renders the final reel overwhelming and not a little confusing. Throw in an open copy of Through The Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll, lying ominously on the garden lawn, and many will be scratching their heads on exit from the theatre.
Evan Rachel Wood and Eva Amurri (Susan Sarandon's daughter) give natural performances as the teenage friends, but Thurman falters as the older Diana. It's a tough role for any actress - to play a character who exists only in the imagination of her younger self - and Thurman, all nervous ticks and jitters, doesn't manage to make her effectively three-dimensional.
Perelman has enlisted some heavyweight names below the line, such as James Horner, who delivers a typically portentous score, and cinematographer Pawel Edelman who makes vivid and gorgeous images of the lush Connecticut flora.
2929 Productions (US)
2929 International (US)
based on the novel The Life Before Her Eyes by Laura Kasischke
Director of photography
Evan Rachel Wood