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Australia 2002
Directed by
Michael Petroni
95 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

Till Human Voices Wake Us

Synopsis: Sylvie and Sam (Brooke Harmon amd Lindley Joyner) are young teenagers living in the tiny Victorian country town of Genoa. Both sensitive and intelligent they are in the first throes of awakening sexual attraction when tragedy strikes. Sam grows up very much like his emotionally-distant father until circumstances force him to confront his past

The debut feature from writer/director Petroni is unusual by Australian standards in that it delves into the realm of the poetic supernatural drama (the area that M. Night Shyalaman captured so well with The Sixth Sense, 1999). The title refers to a line from T.S. Eliot's poem The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock: "Till human voices wake us and we drown" and evokes the romantic fatalism with which the film is imbued.

Till Human Voices Wake Us opens with the coming-of-age themes familiar from other Australian films such as The Year My Voice Broke (1987) but after a tragic accident (in the bush, another popular Australian theme, Picnic At Hanging Rock, 1975, being the classic example) segues to some twenty years later to continue the story of the now-adult Dr. Sam Franks, well played by a bearded Guy Pearce.

Petroni paces the story effectively, Roger Lanser photographs it lucidly and Dale Cornelius and Amotz Plessner provide a sympathetic score. The result is a visually seductive film with an atypically understated sensibility, rendering a typical-enough story with unusual sophistication. Probably just a little too much sophistication (where, for instance, would one get Chinese takeaway in those fashionable cartons with the little metal handles in a tiny country town?), but let's not be churlish. The casting of Helena Bonham-Carter is an unusual choice, aside from the fact if you wanted to have any actress pulled from a river she would be the one (when she awakes the next morning her Pre-Raphaelite make-up is perfect). Shorn of her familiar public school accent, but not her raven tresses, she does a fine job of incarnating the wan soul of love lost, not the sort of thing one could imagine any true blue Aussie chick pulling off.

Petroni's film had the misfortune to be released in a very strong year for Australian film (Rabbit-Proof Fence, Beneath Clouds and Australian Rules to name but a few) and this, combined with its atypicalities, meant that it was largely overlooked at the time although it is one which rewards on its own terms.

FYI: There is also an "international" completely re-cut version of the film which is 5 minutes shorter and which interweaves the two time frames instead of keeping their chronological identity separate as the "Australian" release does.




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