Just about the only thing David Lawson did not do in A Clockwork Heart is act. Seriously, he wrote, directed, edited, and produced the short film. He was also the art and production designer and had a hand in the costuming and sound design. It’s clear that this romantic, sci-fi, steampunk fairy tale was an absolute labor of love. Does all that dedication and hard work translate into an enjoyable viewing experience for the audience?
A soft-spoken narrator (Catherine O’Donnell) introduces the older inventor Geoffrey (Gary Dean), as he’s reading a story to his daughter, Abigail (Aiysha Jebali), a bedtime story. She’s sitting on the floor, imagining every word. Well, almost. See, Abigail is no ordinary person, as longing for companionship, Geoffrey created her long ago. This means she has a hard time imaging concepts such as love or happiness.
The next morning, Abigail is strolling in the woods when she happens upon the kindly Charles (Vincent T. Spangenberg). The two talk for a spell, the man noting her odd stiffness. When she recounts this story to her father, Geoffrey realizes that she never mentions how the encounter made her feel. He resolves to fix this by creating a clockwork heart for her mechanical body. Is he successful? Will Abigail be able to handle these newfound sensations?
“He resolves to fix this by creating a clockwork heart for her mechanical body.”
A Clockwork Heart is an adorable, interesting little movie. At less than 15-minutes long, certain aspects of the story that one might think of are not covered. For example, if Abigail has been around as long as the movie suggests, do Geoffrey’s friends and neighbors know what she is? But, as the film never even brings it up, it’s only after finishing and thinking on the short that such questions began to form. And that is not a bad thing, as it means the viewer is left wanting to continue basking in this world’s optimistic radiance.
In terms of the cinematography, Lawson never gets too fancy with the camera movements – a dolly there, or a pull in here – but the colors and lighting pop. There’s a fantastical glow to the colors that make them seem not quite of this planet, perfectly selling the fairy tale nature of the story. The production design, especially the inventor’s workshop and the titular heart, is excellent and creative.
While I do wish there was more dialogue amongst the actors themselves, but the narrator is the one talking at least 95% of the time. However, O’Donnell possesses a pleasing voice and brings the emotional journey to life. Jebali’s stiff mannerisms sell the automaton nature of her character well. Dean brings a certain sophistication to the way he holds himself as the well-meaning and intelligent inventor. Spangenberg ably enters the narrative near the end and instantly lights up the film, the same way he does to Abigail. Not an easy feat, but he pulls it off nicely.
A Clockwork Heart may not cover as much ground as its premise tantalizes, but that’s hardly an issue when the end product is this charming. The actors are all committed and good, the directing keeps the camera focused on the essential moments, and the production and art design are top-notch. The world needs an optimistic, sweet, and wholesome escape, and Lawson’s film debut perfectly fits the bill.
"…this romantic, sci-fi, steampunk fairy tale was an absolute labor of love."