Interview: Matthias Malzieu of “Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart”

Posted on October 5, 2014 at 8:00 am

First it was a concept album of ethereally bittersweet songs from the French group Dionysos, and then it was a graphic novel, and now, writer/musician Matthias Malzieu has brought his tenderhearted fantasy love story to the screen in the animated Jack And The Cuckoo-Clock Heart. It is a gentle fairy tale about a boy with a cuckoo-clock for a heart who is told he must never fall in love, but who cannot help falling for a visually impaired singer, available on DVD and Blu-Ray October 7, 2014, with both English and French dialogue.

With some help from a translator, I spoke to Malzieu about creating this omni-media story, which, like “Hugo,” is a fictional tale but features real-life pioneering filmmaker Georges Melies as a character. He said, “Surrealism was the esthetic influence. We made a lot of researches and found a lot of Jules Verne, George Melies, this moment of history when medical things, magic things, and inventions, science, were completely mixed, charlatanism, religion, doctors, scientists -– a fog of sensation between all these things. Everything was possible for real. The story takes place in this moment of history, steampunk, trains, steam machines, first cameras, all these magical machines that seem to have a soul. It brings up the nice problem of the character, a machine with a soul. It has joy like a human, but the technical problems of a machine.”

One of the most striking scenes in the film is a train ride.

“The train is the link between the dream and reality,” Malzieu said, “all the atmosphere and spirits of the movie in one scene, dancing strange monsters, like a dream but scary, dance and silence just after a very loud scene with a lot of punk rock music and movement. Then just rocking in silence with no melody, the poetry and simple human emotion at the same time.”   He went on.  “The train and the music drive the dreams of escape of the character. The train is on paper to show it is fragile and small and even a breath can move it but it’s exciting.  This heart’s way of doing it with human hands, little things we like that a lot of people can see and feel all the mechanics.”  He explained that he identified with Melies, a stage magician before he became a filmmaker and pioneer of special effects.  “Making a movie was very close to making a magic trick, telling a story with little magic things. The producer and animators are like a magic tool of my own dreams, a human magic tool, always fragile, and delicate.”

He worked with illustrator Nicoletta Ceccoli in creating the look of the film and said it was “like Christmas to receive her messages, a strange train with wings, a character with a xylophone on his spine, not too soft a look, though.  It had to be alive but look like porcelain, maybe a little Pinocchio-esque but with very realistic eyes, and bodies not too elastic.”

The opening scene, with a woman trying to reach a midwife before she delivers her baby on the coldest day in history, had to be “intense and funny and mysterious at the same time.”  The main character has a clock instead of his heart, “so when I think about the movie I really want to show the emotion that he can bring with his machine. I would like to film a lot of the cogs and mechanical aspects.  With this mechanics he can love or not love, be a human and a machine.  I like the poetry that brings this together and want to see inside of the heart in a metaphoric way and a real way. The art and mechanics of the character are similar to the connection between George Melies and his camera.”

This movie is “about love in a passionate way.”  The lead female character is a visually impaired singer,  “She did not trust herself, so when she is angry she has vines with thorns around her. She is supposed to know everything about this emotion but she is scared by Jack who is different, and she rejects him because she is scared of herself.  When you are too scared of doing bad things you do bad things. She thinks she can’t risk breaking his heart. She’s scared, not of Jack but of making bad things happen to him.”

Malzieu says the story started with the idea of the character, about falling in love deeply and being different. “In the book, I wrote sometimes love can turn us into a monster of sadness, sometimes a monster of wonder, sometimes similar. A character with a mechanical heart is different so I can talk about the difference between people in a poetic way, and about the fragility.  Jack’e heart needs to be wound every morning to stay alive. And love is dangerous. He can’t fall in love but he will try to, and people will try to break his dreams.”

He describes Melies as “a fantastic inventor and magician, like the doctor of love,  the opposite of Madeleine,” who builds Jack’s heart.  “She’s like the mother.  She wants to protect, but maybe too much protecting.  Melies is the opposite.  He wants adventure and thinks it is good for the health.  That’s two different visions of life.”  And Malzieu finds appealing “the analogy between the camera and the heart – a machine with soul and emotion,” so he has Melies make a romantic movie inside the movie.  He is “the father, the friend everybody dreams to have, clever, funny, creating fantastic things all the time.”

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