“Voice from the Stone”

 

 

            Producer Dean Zanuck and Director Eric Howell have taken a calculated risk in bringing “Voice from the Stone” to the big screen.  It's non-genre.  That is, it doesn't fit neatly into any of the traditional categories of drama, mystery, thriller, or horror, not to mention comedy, romance, farce, historical, fantasy, family, and sci-fi.  It's kind of a ghost story within a family drama, set in Tuscany in the 1950's.

            Nine-year-old Jakob (Edward Dring) hasn't spoken a word since his mother died in his presence 7 months ago.  She had some kind of mysterious fever, and Jakob's father, Klaus (Marton Csokas) had gone to seek medical help, so Jacob was the only one with his Mother, Malvina (Caterina Marino), who assured him on her deathbed that some other woman would come to love him.

            Enter the new Nanny.  Verena (Emilia Clarke) is first shown in a tearful farewell from her previous client, so we get it that she's very good at what she does, which is care for challenging children.  Jakob is a challenge, all right.  He broods a lot, runs off by himself to play in the nearby woods or quarry, and sometimes hangs around the high tower connected with his castle-like home.

            Klaus tells Verena that the huge estate has been in his wife's family for hundreds of years.  Klaus is an artist who quit sculpting the day his wife died, so in his own way, he's gone silent, as well, at least artistically.  He obviously loves Jakob, but is at his wit's end trying to get him to speak, so turns to Verena for help.

            She tries to form a relationship with Jakob, but it's difficult. Though obedient to his father, he doesn't seem to want to follow any of Verena's suggestions or instructions.  Though Klaus dresses up in a suit every day, he seems to do little except brood and smoke cigarettes.  Verena meets the old groundskeeper, who only speaks Italian with her, and the old grandmother, who only speaks English with her.  Curiously, the grandmother doesn't seem to relate to any other members of the family; only Verena.

            One day Verena finds Jakob intently listening at a wall that adjoins the family crypt.  Klaus says Jakob is hearing the voice of his Mother, which Verena doubts, but after she's drawn in to the family dynamics, she wonders herself if it's possible.  Verena tries on some of Malvina's clothes, at the insistence of the Grandmother, and at first Klaus is indignant, then encouraging.  Stunned, he tells Verena that he didn't realize how much she resembles Malvina, and then hesitantly asks if Verena might also be willing to model for him, as Malvina did.

            Verena is reluctant at first, but eventually complies, which sets off some long-neglected erotic feelings in her, and possibly in Klaus, as well (part of the movie's technique is blurring the distinction between fantasy and reality).  The closeness with Klaus seems to correspond with some breakthroughs with Jakob, as he sometimes becomes playful with Verena, and seems to enjoy her company.

            So is there a voice from the crypt, and if so, is it Malvina, and what is she trying to convey to the living?  While Verena dreams of taking Malvina's place in the family, she also has nightmares of being summarily dispatched, as she fears Malvina might have been.  Are we supposed to be charmed, scared, intrigued, or merely curious? 

            Though “Voice from the Stone” is slow-moving, and subtitled (mostly at the beginning), and conveys the atmosphere of a previous generation of filmmaking, it's unique enough to arouse the curiosity of the more adventurous “art house” moviegoer.  But despite the recent star power of its leading lady, it's not likely to go mainstream.  Because it will struggle to find its niche audience.

 

Questions for Discussion:

1)                  How are children especially affected by the loss of a parent?

2)                  Have you ever felt “watched over” by a deceased family member?

3)                  How has grieving affected you?

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association