By Rianne Hill Soriano

Romance with a mechanical heart

Posted on July 04, 2014

Movie Review
Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart
Directed by Mathias Malzieu and Staphane Berla

JACK and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart is a dark, idiosyncratic, animated musical romance with a niche appeal. Despite being oddly miscalibrated in spinning its idiosyncratic tropes into a distinctive new form, this French film offers an exotic flair that some audience members may find charming. This whimsical steampunk-rock fairy tale is alluringly moody with its gothic romance and expressionist adventure.

This computer-animated piece’s director, Mathias Malzieu, adapts his own best-selling novel La Mécanique du cœur alongside co-director Stephane Berla who is behind the music video projects of Malzieu’s rock band Dionysos. The musical sections of the story are based on the band’s album.

The story is set in Edinburgh during the late 19th century, coinciding with the invention of film. Born on the coldest day on Earth, the infant Jack’s heart stops beating after birth. Through the help of the caring midwife who happens to be a well-meaning witch, he survives by having his frozen heart replaced by a mechanical clock. There are three rules he must follow to avoid irreparably damaging this makeshift heart: he should never touch the hands of his heart; he must not lose his temper, get extremely excited or angry; and, above all, he should never fall in love.

However, as a young adult, he starts seeking independence and self-worth. He meets a fiery-eyed girl and they fall in love. He chases after her across Europe, risking his life. He also finds a good friend in the person of inventor, illusionist and moving-picture magician Georges Méliès who aids him through his physical and emotional challenges.

With a wildly imaginative book as its source material, this hallucinatory piece is reminiscent of Tim Burton’s stop-motion masterpiece Corpse Bride, while also infusing a signature French animation style to the presentation. The fantastic story is populated by eccentric characters with porcelain-doll looks and dreamily skewed Victorian-era props and sets.

Thanks to its poetic temperament, the film has the potential of becoming a cult classic. However, the storytelling is not compelling. Its cinematic treatment goes the music video route where the visuals are used more as embellishments. It does not establish the story arc properly and the character progression is mostly flat. Moreover, the voices of Orlando Seale and Samantha Barks in the lead roles turn out as a mixed bag throughout the film’s running time.

One can’t quite make sense of the many character decisions and turn of events. Sacrificing storytelling for style, the narrative is unable to create enough concern for the characters. Yet, it is worth noting that the film’s ending allows it to redeem itself.

Despite its shortcomings, this animated work is an interesting tale worth a watch by those seeking something artsy, visually dark and cinematically savvy. It also incorporates some intriguing bits of film history through the fictional account of filmmaker Georges Méliès, as well as its homage to some classic film scenes that may be best appreciated by film buffs.

MTRCB Rating: PG