Desert Bloom | Chicago Reader

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The PBS pedigree occasionally intrudes and the family-crisis material traverses familiar emotional ground (though not always: a few scenes are surprisingly fresh), but this memoir of a 50s Nevada girlhood, of coming of age in the shadow of the Bomb, has as strong sense of re-created period as the species can provide. The images are rich and saturated, the details of character and place carefully drawn, and director Eugene Corr has his camera linger over scenes for their own expressive sake—the dances and picnics and Christmas celebrations and exotic social rituals of the 50s, simultaneously alien and fresh—rather than train it to the demands of narrative and nostalgia. The film's final image, of an angelically white atomic cloud blossoming over the desert, does more than encapsulate the title metaphor: it embraces all the contradictory threads in the lives of these particular people at this particular time and place; it's an unforgettable image, beautiful, resonant, and strange. The cast, including Jon Voight, JoBeth Williams, Ellen Barkin, and Annabeth Gish, is uniformly fine, and Barkin especially is superb: a sensual, vivid, illuminating presence.

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