Till Human Voices Wake Us

Taking its title from the final haunting verse of T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," screenwriter Michael Petroni's directing debut is like a well-crafted ghost story: It's smart, subtle and deeply romantic. Successful Melbourne psychiatrist Sam Franks (Guy Pearce) makes an unexpected journey into the past when he learns that his late father's...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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Taking its title from the final haunting verse of T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," screenwriter Michael Petroni's directing debut is like a well-crafted ghost story: It's smart, subtle and deeply romantic. Successful Melbourne psychiatrist Sam Franks (Guy Pearce) makes an unexpected journey into the past when he learns that his late father's last wish was to be buried in Genoa, the sleepy, rural Australian town where Sam grew up. Dr. David Franks (Peter Curtin, in flashbacks) was a cold, distant widower who cared deeply for his late wife but little else. Sam, it seems, has grown up to be a lot like his father and only reluctantly agrees to escort his father's coffin back home. After falling asleep on the train to Genoa, Sam awakes to find himself sharing his compartment with a dark-haired stranger who introduces herself as Ruby (Helena Bonham Carter). Sam is soon after called away by the conductor, and when he returns, Ruby is gone. That night, as he's driving through Genoa's rainy back roads of Genoa, Sam sees her again; this time she's perched on the edge of a train trestle. As an oncoming train whizzes past, she plunges into the water below. Sam jumps in after her and pulls her to shore, but when she awakes the following morning safe in Dr. Frank's old house, Ruby is suffering from total amnesia: She doesn't even remember her own name. The circumstances of Ruby's sudden reappearance in Sam's life further stimulates memories already stirred by Sam's trip home, memories of someone he didn't save: Sam's childhood sweetheart, Silvy (Brooke Harmon), a young disabled woman whose tragic end has haunted Sam through adulthood. The things Ruby says, the word games she likes to play, even the snatches of verse that spring into her mind — lines from "Prufrock" — are uncannily familiar to Sam. It's almost as though Ruby's slowly returning memories once belonged to Silvy. Australian-born Petroni, whose screenplay for THE DANGEROUS LIVES OF ALTAR BOYS beautifully captured the power of adolescent love and loss, deftly balances the probability that Ruby is simply a blank slate onto which Sam is projecting long repressed feelings of guilt and regret with the growing possibility that she's something else entirely. His film obviously owes a debt to Hitchcock's VERTIGO (1958), but it's far from a slavish copy: In Genoa, Australia, Petroni has created an enchanted forest all his own, a dream world in which anything is possible.

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