When his father's death forces him to return to the small Australian town of his adolescence, hard and stoic psych professor Sam Frank (Guy Pearce) is none too pleased. Upon arrival, Sam begins to sort through his childhood knickknacks, which leads him to remember a time in his early teens when he spent lazy summer days with a young handicapped girl named Silvia -- a girl he fell in love with. Entering Sam's life at this very time is Ruby (Helena Bonham Carter), a confused woman who has little memory of her past. As Sam tries to get inside Ruby's mind to help her sort things out, he also comes closer to confronting a past he did not put to rest carefully enough, and one that has come calling for him.
For the more patient viewer, "Till Human Voices Wake Us" (IMDb listing) is a film that rewards with its slower pace and belief in mystical occurrences. It's often a beautifully assembled film, written as a mixture of "Stand By Me" with moments of "Ghost"-style wonderment, but is a little more Australian in appearance and direction. Its themes of generational behavior are interesting, and presented without any finger pointing, which is atypical for a picture about psychological understanding. This is a film about memories, and how the difficult ones are often buried so deep, that eventually they begin to run the show, mentally speaking. Through clues and smoky rural atmosphere, director Michael Petroni does a delicate job creating an aura of mystery and compassion. "Human Voices" is not exactly a peppy, constantly rewarding story, but it does accomplish something with the little it takes on.
Surprisingly, it's not the fine work here by actors Guy Pearce and Helena Bonham Carter that keeps the film moving, but by the younger set of performers, who are spoiled rotten by being able to play inside the better half of the script. The Pearce and Bonham Carter sequences are the mysterious ones, using supernatural behavior and restrained outbursts of passion to help create their half of the journey, whereas young Sam and Silvia get the teen love movement, and they get it exactly right. "Human Voices" does an incredible job mapping out young love between shy souls, and the performances from the two actors (Lindley Joyner and Brooke Harmon) are superb in these scenes, where a simple shrug of the shoulders can be an entire profession of affection. "Human Voices" drops the flashbacks about halfway through to make room for Ruby's entrance, and I greatly missed these snapshots of adolescence for the rest of the film.
"Till Human Voices Wake Us" doesn't feature quite the kicker of an ending one might hope for, as anyone who has been doing their homework at the movies in recent years will be able to see what's coming next. But that doesn't stop Petroni from filming it compassionately, summing up "Human Voices" with a comforting message of hope and harmony.
Filmfodder Grade: B