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'The Life Before Her Eyes'

After a credit sequence ripe with natural beauty and blooming flowers, the camera finds Diana (Evan Rachel Wood) and her best friend in a high-school restroom. They hear gunfire and screams. Moments later, a classmate with a machine gun enters.

Before he can act, though, the film flashes ahead to the 15th anniversary of that day's shootings, and we watch an adult Diana (Uma Thurman), now a mother and teacher, coping with memories and remorse as her own daughter heads for school. As director Vadim Perelman (The House of Sand and Fog) flips between past and present, schoolgirl fantasy and reality, we discern how tensions played out that day, and how thoroughly the Columbine-like events still affect Diana's life.

Or do they? Perelman's second feature is a showcase for elaborate symbolism — insect imagery, plants growing and withering, seeds floating through the air in a slow-motion ballet — and also for music cues that hint at things not being said in the screenplay that first-timer Emil Stern has distilled from Laura Kasischke's novel. Visually exquisite and sharply performed (Wood and Thurman are both terrific as Diana), the film is an intriguingly crafted head-scratcher, likely to have audiences arguing over a plotline that fully reveals itself only seconds before the final credits.

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Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.
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