Based on Truman Capote’s acclaimed first novel, “Other Voices, Other Rooms” is a powerful Gothic drama about a young boy’s turbulent odyssey as he seeks to unravel the puzzle surrounding his father’s ailment. A strong central performance by Lothaire Bluteau dominates this cryptic, often poetic, narrative. Pic, which at times is exacting but almost always rewarding, may warrant limited theatrical release before airing on TV, cable and other venues.
Published in 1948, “Other Voices, Other Rooms,” instantly accorded the author a prominent position among postwar writers.
In their screen adaptation, co-writers Sara Flanigan and David Rocksavage (he also directed) have maintained the novel’s bizarre, often lyrical mood. Their decision to add occasional narration by Bob Kingdom contributes to the film’s autobiographical elements.
Set in the Deep South, yarn begins with the arrival of 13-year-old Joel Sansom (David Speck) at a decaying plantation to meet the father he hasn’t seen in nine years. Greeted by Amy Skully (Anna Thompson), the bitter mistress of the house, he’s introduced to her eccentric cousin Randolph (Bluteau), and to the black servant, who soon becomes his friend and confidante.
For days, Joel is denied a visit with his father. Amy and Randolph insist that the ailing man is too weak to be seen. Wandering around the house, the boy begins to gather bits and pieces about his father’s mysterious desertion of the family. This is done through intense meetings with Randolph, who poetically discloses hidden secrets about his strenuous relationship with Joel’s father.
Most touching elements, seen in flashbacks, relate Randolph’s unrequited obsession for a prizefighter in Havana, which led to a tragic accident involving Joel’s father.
With the exception of a few outdoor scenes in which Joel befriends a tomboy, pic is a heavy-brooding indoor drama rendered in the best Gothic tradition. Urging Joel to stay in their bizarre house, Randolph and Amy steal his mail, suffocating his contact with the outside world.
To dramatize the past, the effete Randolph uses flamboyant costumes and props , which for a while feed the boy’s imagination. The handsome Bluteau is heartbreaking as the debauched snob, capturing the life of a scion of a once-illustrious family, who’s now lost in his past.
Pic also benefits from the sensitive portrait by David Speck, a gifted actor who plays Joel, a teenager thrown into a dangerously decadent world from which he has to escape to remain sane. As the frustrated spinsterish cousin, Thompson has many sad, touching moments.
Tech credits are fine, particularly Amy McGary’s resourceful design, Paul Ryan’s luminous lensing, and Jane Greenwood’s rich period costumes, all superbly evoking 1930s life in the Deep South.