The narrative of the Australian version of Till Human Voices Wake Us unfolds in linear fashion. For England and the United States, writer-director Michael Petroni agreed to re-edit his first film so the story is told in flashback. That way, the stars (Guy Pearce and Helena Bonham Carter) appear on screen much earlier.In the original version, now on local release, that’s not for 40 minutes or so. Sam Franks (Lindley Joyner) is a sensitive adolescent, returning home to rural Victoria from boarding school. He’s the only child of the town doctor, a distant man seemingly cut off from his son since his wife died. Sam’s best friend is a girl his age, Silvy (Brooke Harman), who walks with the aid of calipers.
These establishing scenes are the best in the film. There isn’t a very strong sense of time - we only know this story takes place in The Past. But Petroni expertly conjures the sleepy town of Genoa, and Roger Lanser’s bush photography evokes the feel of endless childhood summers. Young actors Joyner and Harmon have an easy rapport. There’s also a refreshing lack of interfering minor characters and clichéd incident.
But there’s an inevitable tragic accident involving Silvy, and we cut to an unspecified time in the future (20? 30? years later). A morose and emotionally scarred Guy Pearce takes up the story as the older Sam. He’s conveniently become a psychologist and memory specialist. Returning by train to Genoa for his father’s funeral, he meets a woman who reminds him of Silvy all grown-up (Carter, complete with convincing Australian accent).
Petroni’s symbolism becomes increasingly blatant. There's little to do but wait and watch as a sombre Pearce works through his grief in a familiar manner. Some of these scenes are overlong and somnolent, and would probably benefit from being broken up by flashback. And if you’ve seen Fight Club, The Sixth Sense or The Others, bells of recognition begin to clang. Loudly.The intriguing title is from a TS Eliot poem (“The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock”), which presumably also inspired much of Human Voices’ watery imagery. It also affected Dale Cornelius, whose overwhelming score drenches the soundtrack.