A mildly steampunk-inspired fairy tale about a love and friendship that is shared between a boy and a girl. Here is our review of director David Lawson’s debut short film A Clockwork Heart.
Over the past century and a bit, since filmmaking began, fairy tales have been a staple of cinematic story-telling and entertainment aimed at children and families all around the world. However, if you have ever read the original tales written, all those centuries ago, you will know that even Hollywood had to tone down these short stories of folklore into the family-friendly fare, scrubbing out and watering down all of the graphic violence, dread, and horror that was contained within.
Disney was, of course, the main purveyor of this type of film with their classic roster of cartoons all being based on fairy tales passed down from generation to generation. Their subsequent output of universally lauded animations, live-action films and recent remakes have often eroded the original tales and replaced their template with their very own Disney formula. One such film is their 1940 animated version of Pinocchio, which made the scary trials faced by our wooden hero whose only dream was to become a real boy a bit less uncomfortable for its audience. Although the scenes of boys changing into donkeys while indulging on Pleasure Island are still etched quite strongly in my subconscious.
David Lawson’s debut short film, the 14 minute A Clockwork Heart, takes much of its story from Pinocchio but adds a twist to it by giving us a female protagonist.
Geoffery Copperhead (played by actor Gary Dean) is an old inventor who manages to create in his workshop a mechanical girl whom he names Abigail. Geoffrey allows Abigail to live in his house as an equal, roam the woods, and play with the local children. As time passes, Geoffrey ages and the local children get older but Abigail remains the same age and looks the same as she has always done, but then, being mechanical of course she would. Geoffrey’s only way of dealing with this aspect is to read books to Abigail every night in the vain hope that she will eventually learn to act, feel, and speak like a real person. but of course, this is also something that will sadly never happen either.
As Abigail, Lawson has cast the actress Aiysha Jebali and it is a great piece of casting. Jebali’s presence is a crucial element in the film; in various other movies androids, robots and puppets are all made to look artificial, but not Abigail, she is so human that she could take the place of a real person. Jebali gives us a fine performance with what feels like unblinking eyes and a deep innocence. There is an other-worldliness to her creation that is just perfectly unsettling. She seems like a real girl but she is lacking in experience, has no real empathy, and is empty of all human emotions. She can smile and hold a conversation but only because she is reflecting on what Geoffrey has taught her. She does not love and does not feel love, she remains by all accounts an empty shell. Jebali’s performance works well within the film’s reality by at first making Abigail seem very slow on the uptake then later making her seem completely human.
Although there is no date given in the film, we get the impression that we are in the mid 18th or 19th century. The locations are set in forests and small log cabin-type homes and this helps to give A Clockwork Heart a timeless quality that will not date the film in the years to come.
There is very little dialogue in the movie as we get just one or two words but Abigail’s story is read to us in the form of a narration that takes place over the visuals. Catherine O’Donnell is our narrator and she does a great job of telling us the story and this all helps to give the general feel of a fairy tale that is supposed to be told. The music is also a great help to Lawson’s vision; the constant piano chords that engulf the film managing to enhance the emotion of the moments for the audience, moments that Abigail, being a mechanical girl. just cannot grasp.
Overall A Clockwork Heart is a film that is beautiful, sleek, and tinged with nostalgia but just fails to conjure the necessary emotional impact that would have made Abigail’s journey that little bit more timeless.