Okay, I’m cheating with this one. So, Emilia Clarke and Tom Hanks both have movies opening, this weekend. That’s awesome for me. Believe it or not, seeing this one first wasn’t the plan. Voice from the Stone is (for now, at least) a very limited release, only hitting major metropolitan markets, which my hometown is very much not. Therefore, I wasn’t sure I’d even get to see it. But, hey, it’s also released digitally! Not ideal – not by a longshot. But it’s Emilia, and it’s likely either digital or nothing, unless it breaks out theatrically and earns a wider release. But I’m not counting on that, so digital download, it is. Only for you, Emilia. Only for you.
Meanwhile, my plan was to see The Circle, this afternoon. Then, I was in a car wreck, yesterday. I’m fine (my car is not. And, no, I wasn’t at fault.) but that kept me from mowing my lawn, yesterday. That means I had to do that, today, which in turn kept me from making it to The Circle. So, I’ll see that one, tomorrow, and have a post up, tomorrow night, after a work-related gathering, to which I’m responsible for bringing the Klondike Bars (handy little reminder to myself, there).
Until then, here’s Emilia’s newest film, Voice from the Stone. This was another film of which I had no preconceived notions or expectations. Emilia is in it; that was all I needed to know. I think that knowing virtually nothing about the film made for a much better experience (as it usually does, let’s be honest). The story unfolded on its own, as it saw fit, and I wasn’t internally making demands upon it.
As a result, I found it quite enjoyable, and not only due to Emilia’s presence and performance (which I’ll get to, momentarily). The first thing I noticed is that the film looks like a poem. I don’t really know what that means, but that’s the best way I can think of to describe it. Set in the 1950s in Tuscany, Italy, the entire film takes place on an ornate and ominous castle estate, reeking of a frigid beauty and becoming a character all unto itself. You want to check this one out in high-definition, believe me. It’s gorgeous.
The tone is classically moody and atmospheric, but not without a latent warmth. Said warmth almost entirely originates from Clarke’s Verena, but there’s a consistent feeling of hope throughout the picture, though it’s constantly at war with an omnipresent dread that builds almost unnoticed. The viewer can tell that something is going on and the narrative is crescendoing to a point, but – unless one has researched the movie – it never really becomes evident exactly what that point is going to be until the film gets there.
Admittedly, some of the revelations are clichéd, but the revelations, themselves, aren’t the point of the film. Clarke’s Verena is the entire heart, soul, backbone, and foundation of the film. Her character arc (which I won’t elaborate upon, for it would be too spoilery) is powerful, emotional, believable, and even surprising. And that arc is the point of the film.
Clarke delivers on all of this perfectly, taking advantage of another opportunity to put her full range of talent on display. Her “Game of Thrones” character, Daenerys Targaryen, is amazing, but spends most of the time maintaining a cold, sterile, emotionless demeanor. Clarke has wisely been choosing roles that show what else she’s capable of. Here, she took over the part for the departing Maggie Gyllenhaal, and she was wise to do so, even if the film never reaches a broad audience. The entire weight of the movie rests on her shoulders and she proves herself – once again – far beyond capable. Fans will notice much similarity between Verena and Clarke’s Lou from last year’s underrated Me Before You, though she is more motherly here, less goofy, and additional differences begin to compound as the film progresses. Her facial expressions and delivery helps to sell the story and when her character reaches the end of the film, it’s tough to not be invested in her fate. Clarke is a true actor and a classic Hollywood leading lady.
There are only a handful of reviews on Rotten Tomatoes and I just glanced at them to see what the critics are saying. I’m disappointed to see that the ones who disliked it are complaining about a lack of action and a slow pace. They’ve also labeled this as a horror film, which I think is unfair and inaccurate. It has that Gothic veneer (and, again, it’s lovely) and there is an overarching supernatural presence, but the film never professes to be a horror-thriller. At best, it’s art house horror, along the lines of The Orphanage/El Orfanato, It Follows, or Under the Skin, but I wouldn’t even take it that far. This is a character study that’s buoyed by a star at the top of her game, a cinematographer that knocks it out of the park, and a competent, fledgling director in Eric D. Howell. I think if one takes the film for what it is instead of punishing it because of what it isn’t, then it’s easy to become engaged and entertained. Clarke is irrefutably watchable, the dialogue is natural and informative, and the story maintains a steady build to a solid payoff – even if some of the events are a little predictable along the way. Even with that being the case, not all is as it seems and there will be certain reveals that you in fact, do not see coming.
Voice from the Stone is a thought-provoking film about struggling to maintain one’s own identity in a world that demands conformity. Shame on some of the typically-reliable critics for being oblivious to the underlying themes of the film. Hopefully, you’ll give this one a shot (in theaters if you’re in a big city, on demand if you’re not) and be a little more open-minded than some of them have been. If not, I still enjoyed it and expect to enjoy it many more times, in the future.
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