Till Human Voices Wake Us

on February 21, 2003 by Christine James
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It's difficult to say if this inert drama's "twist" would have been discernably less obvious had the promotional materials not touted "Till Human Voices Wake Us" as a supernatural romance. But anyone going in with expectations of the metaphysical will agree that when a mysterious woman suddenly vanishes into thin air--especially when said woman is played by haunted-eyed, anachronistic beauty Helena Bonham Carter--the writing's on the wall (or on the dock, as in this film's bludgeoningly overt last-reel reveal).

The very basic conclusion one draws from the onset turns out not to be a riveting starting point but, staggeringly, the entire revelation to which writer/director Michael Petroni spends the whole film building. Petroni is either extremely slow on the uptake or thinks the rest of us are.

Guy Pearce plays Sam Franks, a brooding professor of psychology who teaches his students about disassociation and passive forgetting. They're behaviors with which he's intimately familiar thanks to a childhood tragedy he's spent a lifetime suppressing. When he returns to his hometown for his father's funeral, he finds himself flashing back to a fateful summer 20 years earlier. Memories of the happy times between 15-year-old Sam and his ebullient but physically handicapped girlfriend, Silvy, unfold in a parallel narrative that's unintentionally saturated with impending doom. Meanwhile, present-day Sam has rescued an edgy and enigmatic amnesiac from drowning and has taken her into his home, like you do when it's Helena Bonham Carter. As she struggles to recall her identity (apparently oblivious to the shouts from the audience), she spontaneously reenacts key moments from Sam's past in a series of laughably on-the-nose "clues."

The title is either a reference to the T.S. Eliot poem "Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" or a prediction as to how long audience members can expect to doze. Starring Guy Pearce, Helena Bonham Carter, Lindley Joyner, Brooke Harman and Frank Gallacher. Directed and written by Michael Petroni. Produced by Shana Levine, Dean Murphy, Nigel Odell, Dave Redman, Matthias Emcke and Thomas Augsberger. A Paramount Classics release. Romantic drama. Rated R for a scene of sexuality. Running time: 96 min

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