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Paramount Studios presents
Till Human Voices Wake Us (2001)

"We have lingered in the chambers of the sea,
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown."

- Dr. Sam Franks (Guy Pearce), reading from T.S. Eliot's The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

Review By: David Krauss   
Published: July 30, 2003

Stars: Guy Pearce, Helena Bonham Carter
Other Stars: Frank Gallacher, Lindley Joyner, Brooke Harmon, Peter Curtin
Director: Michael Petroni

MPAA Rating: R for (a scene of sexuality)
Run Time: 01h:36m:25s
Release Date: July 29, 2003
UPC: 097363413042
Genre: mystery

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ A-AB+ D-

DVD Review

Till Human Voices Wake Us draws its title from the last stanza of T.S. Eliot's well-known poem, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. And this little known, independent Australian film pays homage to its source with lush, lyrical images, a hauntingly romantic story, and a sparse screenplay filled with powerful underlying emotion. Slow-moving and, at times, painfully deliberate, Human Voices still casts a mesmerizing spell. Even when the story stalls or the pace drags, atmosphere and mood carry the film.

Sam Franks (Guy Pearce) is a successful, yet solitary, psychology professor tormented by memory fragments from his youth. When his father succumbs to a long illness, Sam returns to his boyhood home in the Australian countryside and begins to recall a fateful summer of discovery and despair. Distanced by his father's cold, stoic nature, young Sam (Lindley Joyner) cherishes the company of soul mate Silvy (Brooke Harmon). Their special friendship seems destined to blossom into love until tragedy severs their bond.

Or does it? As Sam travels by train to his father's funeral, he awakens from a doze to find a striking young woman named Ruby (Helena Bonham Carter) in his compartment. She seems familiar, but Sam can't make the connection. Then she vanishes. Later, during a driving rainstorm, he spots Ruby atop a bridge, poised for suicide. He rescues her from the river below, revives her, and cares for her in his home. Disoriented and vulnerable, Ruby enlists Sam's help in reconstructing her identity, yet the trail conjures up more suppressed memories of Sam's idyllic relationship with Silvy.

As they continue uncovering clues, the lives of Silvy and Ruby become further entwined, baffling Sam but intriguing and attracting him as well. Could Silvy and Ruby be one and the same? Or are the similarities simply a bizarre coincidence brought on by longing and regret?

A supernatural romance (with a bit of coming-of-age angst tossed in), Till Human Voices Wake Us seamlessly juggles its parallel stories. Both the present and the past possess an air of mystery and mysticism that clouds the characters' judgment. Even the title becomes a riddle, prompting the audience to wonder whose voice is waking whom. Is Sam waking the spirit of Silvy, or is Ruby waking a dormant Sam and helping to free him from the past?

Writer-director Michael Petroni lulls the audience with an almost eerie sense of quiet and introspection, luring us into the film and heightening our response to the characters' subtle ticks and gestures. Wisely favoring visuals over dialogue, his hypnotic style still grates in places, but the film's relatively brief 96-minute running time precludes it from becoming a bore.

Of course, the work of Pearce and Bonham Carter (as well as their younger counterparts) greatly enhances the understated filming. One of the most compelling and versatile actors making movies today, Pearce creates a complex, richly detailed portrait of the inwardly tortured Sam, relying on facial expressions and body language to convey his conflicting and confused emotions. Bonham Carter is equally fine, her dulcet speaking voice and fragile beauty adding a sensual earthiness to Ruby's ethereal presence.

Till Human Voices Wake Us shows we are shaped not only by the events in our lives, but how we choose to react to them. Freeing ourselves from the binding chains of memory can be painful, but this small, intimate film proves the resulting renewal is worth the difficult journey.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Paramount has done a stunning job transferring Till Human Voices Wake Us to DVD. From start to finish, the image quality is superb, with nary a speck or scratch marring the gorgeous cinematography. The razor sharp picture shows no sign of edge enhancement, details are crisp, contrast levels strong, flesh tones true and solid, and colors possess wonderful depth and richness. All these elements add greatly to the overall effect of the film, allowing total immersion in the story. A truly top-notch effort.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The DD 5.1 track possesses no flaws, but the film rarely takes advantage of the multiple channels. The surrounds are sparingly employed, although Amotz Plessner's tranquil score unobtrusively envelops. Other ambient sounds are quite subtle, to say the least, but Till Human Voices Wake Us is not the type of film that demands a booming audio track. Dialogue remains clear and comprehendible throughoutóquite an accomplishment, given that the actors either mumble or whisper most of the time and speak with Australian or British accents.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 14 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 TV Spots/Teasers
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Notorious for skimpy extras, Paramount remains true to form here, including only a brief teaser for a new Showtime TV series.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

Till Human Voices Wake Us will certainly not appeal to all audiences. Its deliberate pacingówhich becomes downright dull at timesówill repel those unprepared for this type of film. But for viewers who enjoy textured characters, glorious cinematography and leisurely storytelling, Petroni's film is worthwhile and enriching. DVD buffs will especially appreciate the spectacular transfer.


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