‘Voice from the Stone’ speaks with its stunning visuals, mysterious performances
Directed by: Eric D. Howell
Written by: Andrew Shaw
Starring: Emilia Clark, Marton Csokas, Edward Dring, and Caterina Murino
“Voice from the Stone” – Jakob (Edward Dring) is hurting. Seven months and 16 days ago, his mother, Malvina (Caterina Murino), died in her home, and Jakob was by her bedside when she passed away.
He is about 11 years old, and from the moment that she passed, he has not spoken a word to anyone, not even his grieving father, Klaus (Marton Csokas). Klaus is beside himself because of the loss of his lovely, talented wife but also because of Jakob’s silence.
He hired several nurses to hopefully find a way for his son to speak but to no avail. One day, a nurse without a university degree, but with a special gift of connection, Verena (Emilia Clarke), enters their lives. Verena, without a husband and kids of her own, enjoys a fruitful, successful career and a long track record of healing dozens of kids over the years. She believes that she might be the key to reaching Jakob and helping him speak, and hence, Verena attempts to find a “Voice from the Stone”.
Director Eric D. Howell’s picture is aptly named for a couple reasons. First, in the classic story “The Sword in the Stone”, a boy becomes the only one in the kingdom to pull a sword from a stone. In this film, Verena could be the only one to help Jakob rediscover his very lost voice. Second, Malvina’s family is beyond exceedingly rich, as they earned their wealth – for over 1,200 years - through mining in the adjacent quarry. Hence, “stone” has a literal meaning in this picture.
Literally, this film – told in a 1950s Tuscany setting - is visually beautiful. Howell found a gorgeous setting - Castello Di Celsa in Siena, Italy – which serves as Klaus and Jakob’s home. Hiding in the sometimes-gray fog, the property is a luxurious wonder. With lush patterns of thick avocado-colored hedges and acreage in every direction, the carefully manicured land accompanies its massive stone castle-master with a towering crown. The interior is just as impressive, but Howell filmed all of the indoor scenes in Montecalvello Castello, as the small, selected cast weave in between notable rooms steeped in massive amounts of history.
Nearly everything feels wrapped in a shroud of mystery and secrets, as we see Verena walk in both light and shadows. Much of the time, she is looking for Jakob. The boy might not have his voice, but he certainly owns a mind of his own. Verena continually attempts to reach a boy who does not wish to be found – both emotionally and physically - and keeping his distance seems to be his primary skillset. Jakob is not stupid, because he knows very well that his silence breeds frustration with his dad and one starts to believe that it has a specific purpose.
Clarke’s Verena is very sympathetic, especially after a reveal of her past and plays an effective protagonist, as we hope for her quick success. With humility, grace and patience, she wins over the audience but struggles to warm up to a cold, distant Klaus and a confused boy, who appears to be in limbo of actually accepting her tutelage. Verena is an honest broker, but this quality leaves her vulnerable to the unknown, which is in a heaping supply with 12 centuries of life, love and death in one place with one family. The family has generated an uncountable amount of memories on this site, and along with wind, rustling leaves and creaky gates, Jakob swears that he hears something else, a voice.
“Voices from the Stone” is a mystery, but through most of the picture, it is a subtle and slow one. Running at a thrifty 1 hour and 34 minutes, the film does feel longer. With just a few lead characters in a nearly empty house and very few times when anybody connects, the slower pace is noticeable, but it is also offset by a picturesque view in nearly any direction.
The movie does pay off in the third act, and when looking back, the cryptic script does nestle into a logical conclusion. Curiously, for a movie wrapped in subtlety, it does unnecessary reinforce its main plot point through the lyrics of a complimented song at the most critical time. Attentive audiences do not necessarily need this cue, and my wish for a music-only melody played at this said, verbal moment. It is probably the only time in the picture in which I wanted less, because for most of the film, I wanted more scripted, verbal nuance to match the intricate visuals. Still, “Voice from the Stone” is a stylish mystery that ultimately answers why Jakob has been hurting for seven months, 16 days and counting, whether or not Verena is ultimately successful.
Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.