And now for something completely different. Jack and the Cuckoo Clock Heart—now playing in limited release. It’s a bizarre and bittersweet, starting and surreal, romantic rock fable about a search for love, acceptance and meaning.
It takes place in 19th century Scotland, but the concept came from a book and album by the Mathias Malzieu, lead singer of the French group, Dionysos. Malzieu co-directed the film with Stéphane Berla. Producer Virginie Besson-Silla and director Luc Besson, along with their children, fell in love with the book and album, becoming determined to make it into an animated feature. The resulting film is, more than anything, an overwhelming thing to see.
GREG EHRBAR: Though the visuals will work fine on a large-screen, high-def TV, there is much more impact in seeing the film on a theater screen.
VIRGINIE BEESON: I think so. The theatrical release is limited, but those who go to the theater will be able to see it that way we did. There is so much to see on each frame of the film, especially in widescreen. We wanted it to look almost like a painting.
GREG: This is a movie that is difficult to categorize. It’s not necessarily aimed at children in the traditional sense, though it’s certainly suited to Halloween, especially the ghost train. But it has a lot to say to adults about the joys and sorrows of life.
VIRGINIE: Well, because of the heart of Jack, which is a cuckoo clock, it is such a parallel with life. Everything is a bit mechanical, but the top thing you add on it is the emotions. The parallel of his heart and his love story says that, in a way you can fix certain things in life, but there has to be a magic to it.
GREG: Speaking of magic, the fantasy filmmaker Georges Méliès appears as a character—and there’s a “film within the film” sequence in which we see one of his films is done in CG animation.
VIRGINIE: Méliès is the father of all the cinema. We thought it was so important to show the first film he would have done, and of course it was about love. He says at one point that, with images finally able to move, you can bring back the dead, you can do whatever you mind, even go to places never imagined. You can do that in film. We thought it was a very important homage.
GREG: The meeting of Méliès and Jack is connected to the second of three train rides in the movie. All three are completely different stylistically: the first tense and ominous, the second wild and whimsical and the third a scary thrill ride—in which Dionysos appears.
VIRGINIE: Yes, that was the effect we wanted.
GREG: There have been those who compare the film to a Tim Burton production—and Dionysos was influenced by Burton—but that is only part of the style. There are many influences.
VIRGINIE: There is a little of Pinocchio in it. And we all loved that classic movie, Freaks. There is inspiration from that film when Jack moves to the Extraordinarium with all these weird people. That was a scene that was very important to Mathias and Luc and for me as well, it was such a beautiful way to tell a story about being different.
GREG: How were the initial audience reactions?
VIRGINIE: I’ve been to many screenings in France, of course. It was selected at the Berlin Film Festival and I have to say it was really quite amazing. There were maybe 2,000 seats in the theater. People reacted so much to the film. When they would laugh, it would make me nervous because they might not have liked to discover that is it not all comedy—but it turned out to get a standing ovation at the end. I’m really looking forward to seeing the reaction here in the U.S. But even if it does not do huge box office, the movie I think will last. When you make a movie you want it to last a long time. That’s the most important thing.
GREG: Is that the way it is with French filmmaking in general or is it more like the American business model, with big budget spectaculars to fill the coffers and make smaller movies possible?
VIRGINIE: All over the world it’s exactly the same thing. The only little difference with production in France is the government has subsidies to help films, but it is for very small budget projects. It’s a business and it has to be because it costs so much money to make most films. You have to bring in some money at some point. We can produce aTransporter or a Taken film, but as the same time we can do smaller, more personal films.
But I strongly feel, and I know Luc Besson feels, that there are certain films that have to be made, and you don’t make them for the money, you make them because they’re stories that need to be told to people. That’s what we did on this one. We’re so proud of our little baby. It’s a piece of art to us.