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This week’s spotlight is “Before and After”, Barbet Schroeder’s 1996 drama about a family’s struggle after their son is being accused of murdering his girlfriend. If you would like to add this to your collection, “Before and After” has been released on Blu-Ray this week in the USA. The media pages for the film have been updated with Blu-Ray screencaptures, a couple of new production stills, on-set pictures as well as three new video clips. Production notes and my review can be found after the cut. As always, share your thoughts on “Before and After” in the comments section.
Rosellen Brown’s 1992 novel “Before and After” received acclaim for telling a parent’s moral and ethic conflicts when their son is accused of murdering his girlfriend, of whom his parents didn’t even know about. Director Barbet Schroeder was instantly interested in adaptating the book to the screen, though it took some years until he was able to get his first choice cast – Edward Furlong, Liam Neeson and Meryl Streep. Some pivotal changes have been made to the book’s story – which is being told in chapters from the points of view by the father, the mother and their daughter. In the film, it’s only the daughter who narrates the story. Also, to critics dismay, the Jewish family was turned into an Irish family in the movie adaptation. Filming took place in Lee in in Berkshire County, Massachusetts in 1995. Meryl, who was interested in doing the film ever since the release of the book, was advised by her colleagues Glenn Close and Jeremy Irons, who both worked with Schroeder on “Reversal of Fortune”, that Schroeder “let them get away and director their own scenes.” However, in restrospect, Streep remembered a difficult time shooting the film:
Barbet has done beautiful work. But… I found it difficult. Liam and I had a blast, but it was a stultifying experience. One of the things was that Barbet insisted that words not ever overlap. Everybody had to finish what they were saying. Then the other person would start. It sucked the life out of the scenes for us – he made an airless thing. (Meryl Streep, Entertainment Weekly, March 2000)
The critics agreed when “Before and After” released in February 1996. According to Entertainment Weekly, “under the guidance of director Barbet Schroeder and screenwriter Ted Tally (The Silence of the Lambs), the movie is as cold as its chilly scenes of winter.” Variety wrote, that “while Streep displays her usual exacting intelligence, the generic mom role5 allows for little that’s distinctive or memorable.” And the New York Times wrote on Streep, “As a working mother living in homey New England splendor with her sculptor husband, Ms. Streep would seem to have the most tailor-made role of her career. Yet she’s never as comfortable as she was in Madison County, perhaps because Mr. Schroeder’s detached directorial style doesn’t suit the film’s strained home and hearth scenes.” “Before and After” performed underwhelmingly at the box office.
The story of “Before and After” is intriguing – a family’s struggle as their son is accused of murdering his girlfriend. There’s the father who, in good will to save his son, destroys evidence. And there’s the the more pragmatic and empathetic mother who wants to stick to the truth. Given this premise, the film is surprisingly boring and stiff. Barbet Schroeder has done some great films, especially in the suspense genre – “Reversal of Fortune”, “Kiss of Death”, “Desperate Measures” and “Murder by Numbers”, so it’s all the more unfortunate that “Before and After” is a failure. To me, this has various reasons. First, all the characters remain colorless and therefore uninteresting. Especially Meryl’s characters has nothing to do throughout the whole film, which is a waste since she appears in almost every scene. Also, pivotal moments of the story are left out, such as the court hearings of both parents. We see them both enter the courtroom, but we don’t get to hear what they actually say. Since both hearings are met with furious reactions, it would have been nice to hear what they said. I always try to find something positive in the films I didn’t enjoy watching, but I’ve had a hard time. Instead of recommending “Before and After”, better have a look at Barbet Schroeder’s “Reversal of Fortune”.