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Interview: Director Vadim Perelman
by Scott Holleran
Director Vadim Perelman on the set of The Life Before Her Eyes
April 16, 2008

While on tour promoting his second motion picture, The Life Before Her Eyes, about a decisive moment during a school shooting massacre, House of Sand and Fog's director Vadim Perelman talked with Box Office Mojo about both movies. Perelman also discussed his next project, an adaptation of Atlas Shrugged.

Box Office Mojo: What is the theme of your new movie, The Life Before Her Eyes?

Vadim Perelman: The beauty of life and how fragile it is—it's a celebration of life.

Box Office Mojo: Why did you repeat scenes?

Vadim Perelman: I wanted echoes. It's an extremely complex film. There are layers and layers of clues and metaphors.

Box Office Mojo: There's a fundamental plot twist. Is it your intention to trick, or to enlighten, the viewer?

Vadim Perelman: Definitely to enlighten. There's an intellectual element to this film. Here, I'm asking the audience to think, not just to feel as in House of Sand and Fog. That was the hardest balance to strike: How deeply do I want to embed the clues? It was like flavoring a dish. That was the biggest challenge. At some point during post-production, it became a question of whether the reveal is too obvious.

Box Office Mojo: Do you consider yourself an Impressionist, a romanticist or a realist ?

Vadim Perelman: All three—probably the bigger portion being a realist. There's definitely Impressionistic realism going on [in The Life Before Her Eyes]. The actors act and it's extremely real and present but I usually layer it with evocative and lyrical images. I like lush art direction, such as the works of Peter Greenaway and [Solaris's Soviet director Andrei] Tarkovsky. [The Life Before Her Eyes production designer] Maia Javan brings a real kind of female complexity and point of view.

Box Office Mojo: Why did you hold on the shot of the bicycle riding up the road?

Vadim Perelman: It was a cool shot. There's a certain pace and rhythm [in The Life Before Her Eyes], like a dream, especially in the older Diana's world—the shot was part of [establishing] that rhythm. I just wanted the eyes to [have a] rest. In House of Sand and Fog, we did a long tracking shot with family pictures in gilded frames and this table and you hear the Ben Kingsley character putting clothes in the washer and then he turns to come back—and, with this [bicycle shot], we're discovering the world through older Diana's eyes.

Uma Thurman in The Life Before Her Eyes
Box Office Mojo: What is the purpose of the fluttering birds?

Vadim Perelman: They're bookends. There's a lot of that.

Box Office Mojo: Did you elicit Uma Thurman's emotional scene in the bathroom—or was that part of her performance primarily of her making?

Vadim Perelman: It was her own. I don't elicit a performance—the actor gives a performance. Ben Kingsley taught me that. The worst thing you can say is "that was great; give me more of that."

Box Office Mojo: Why was Eva Amurri cast—had you seen her in Saved!?

Vadim Perelman: No. I haven't seen her in anything. We were doing auditions and it came down to finalists like Jena Malone [Stepmom] who had a scheduling conflict and Eva came in, read with Evan [Rachel Wood] and I looked at Evan and she said, "she's the one." What's funny is that Eva is completely not that girl.

Even Rachael Wood in The Life Before Her Eyes
Box Office Mojo: Why was Evan Rachel Wood cast—had you seen her in The Upside of Anger?

Vadim Perelman: No. But she's the sweetest, most demure, incredible little angel. She's the best actress in the world and anyone who's worked with her knows that.

Box Office Mojo: Were you always connected to this material?

Vadim Perelman: Yes.

Box Office Mojo: Had you read the novel?

Vadim Perelman: Yes. Before I shot House of Sand and Fog, I read the novel—I read three books a week; I've been reading since I was four years old, during my hardscrabble life in the former Soviet Union—and books were my friends, my source of light. I treat books like they're holy. The book has to resonate and this one did—I'm not sure why or how—maybe because I was raised by a single mother. I felt a real wistful [kind of] sadness, like what a horrible waste of dreams that could have been.

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