Fairytales are made of these. A storyline that touches upon the ups and downs of ordinary life, under extraordinary circumstances. Music that catapults one into the fantasy of a life far beyond the regular rigmarole. And a narrator who walks one through the story’s various unpredictable turns. Director David Lawson’s A Clockwork Heart attempts to offer all of these and more.
Abigail Copperhead (Aiysha Jebali) listens to her father, Geoffrey Copperhead (Gary Dean) narrate her tales. Ironically, the voice we hear instead is of narrator Catherine O’Donnell. Not a wrong choice, considering how soothing her voice is and how it instantly creates the nightly ambience of a bedtime story. That, superimposed with the illustrations used in the opening shots, gives us a magical backdrop for the story — a distinctive technique, very recently seen in Ernesto Sandoval’s The Devil’s Son.
What Lawson ingeniously does, however, is flip the narrative. By having an inventor father (Hello Maurice, Beauty and the Beast!) work on his greatest invention — a living, breathing person, his daughter. We see the birth of the characters even as the narrator reads us a fairytale as Abigail’s father does for her. It’s smart, it’s risky, it’s a story within a story — a strategy that could have very easily backfired had it not been for the actors and the splendid composition that plays in the background.
Abigail is receptive, but unfeeling; for she is devoid of a heart. As she is consumed by the stories her dear papa reads out to her, she longs to live them, feel them, a desire that is expounded by a chance encounter with a stranger (Charles Tanner, played by Vincent T Spangenberg) in the forest. How many stories have been set in these forests, one wonders. But as the camera and music follows Abigail, her stiff gait only accentuated because of the subtlety used in filmmaking here, Abigail’s desire to become more human becomes one with the audience’s.
Jebali is wonderful as Abigail. She could have easily faltered in a character that isn’t fully human. To create a credible invention of another character is hard enough on paper, much less on screen, but Jebali does it. The awkwardness or as some might discern, lack of chemistry between the characters is well justified, when one of the characters is a seemingly non-ageing entity.
What sets A Clockwork Heart apart from its subgenre is the lack of tragedies and the presence of villains. So, what Lawson does instead, is inject tragedy in the very existence of the primary character. Subdivided into chapters like the children’s book, the film (14:09 minutes long) works in sequence and in segments, a tad predictable and avoidable here but nonetheless, with the music and narration — its best components — the film sails through.
Watch A Clockwork Heart to rewind the time, to revisit your childhood, and surprise yourself with the new discoveries of what fairytales are essentially made of.#ShortFilmReview: A Clockwork Heart: ''She needed a heart.'' Click To Tweet
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