ByPaul Donovan, writer at Creators.co
A jerk with an opinion. An explorer of transgressive cinema. See more things about movies at https:[email protected]_donovan
Paul Donovan

Sometimes it scares me how good Netflix is getting at knowing what I like. Once upon a time, this movie appeared on a Netflix list of recommendations for me, an obscure 2013 French film I'd never heard of. It was also categorized as a family film, so I dismissed it. I mean, come on. The poster makes it look so... sugary. And I don't do pure sugar. Even if it's French.

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But I enjoy animated movies, and Netflix predicted I would give it five stars. Netflix also found ways to repeatedly place the film in my way, and I kept seeing that annoying poster. Eventually I relented, and pressed Play.

92 minutes later, I rated it 5 stars.

Why? Because it slapped me upside the head and folded my heart into new and interesting shapes. That's why. This is a bizarre, macabre, gorgeous piece of art that throws beautiful elements into a box of broken glass and shakes it up.

What elements, you ask? Good question.

Its genre

This is a French animated fantasy steampunk alt-rock musical. If you're like me, that's really all you need to know. You can stop reading this article and go watch it now.

It's based on a concept album and a book made by the surreal rock band Dionysos. The film's music was entirely composed by Dionysos, and it was co-directed by the band's lead singer.

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Its deceptive appearance

This looks like a charming Tim Burton-esque movie for the whole family. But as characters in the movie learn, appearances can lie. This movie is dark. It's one for the grown-ups. There is nothing particularly wrong with letting kids watch it, they just won't understand it. It's full of symbolic violence, heartbreak, death, and sexual innuendo. The fact that it all takes place in a childlike atmosphere is a brain-squeezing paradox.

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Its story

It begins with a dying pregnant woman trying to make it to a witch's house on the coldest day ever. The witch delivers a boy, but he has a heart made of ice. The witch replaces his heart with a clock.

The witch warns the boy, Jack, that he must be careful not to mess with his clock, never lose his temper, and never fall in love. If he experiences any intense emotions, his heartclock will break and he will die.

Of course, Jack meets a pretty girl named Miss Acacia. Whenever she feels threatened or angry, she sprouts thorns. Jack is so smitten with her that he almost dies. And then she moves far away without telling him. After some bad things happen at home, Jack travels to Spain, in an attempt to find her.

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Its characters

Jack meets a number of odd people on his adventures to win Miss Acacia's heart, from an emo schoolyard bully, to Georges Méliès, the real man who helped develop early movie special effects techniques. In a super-weird episode on a train (and one that can lead your thoughts to some very dark places), Jack runs into a different Jack - also known as The Ripper. This Jack has his own ideas about how to handle a woman's heart.

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Its slyness and irony

There are some roguish things that occur in the movie, and interesting character quotes that you probably won't catch unless you're watching it with subtitles on. The carnival town in which Miss Acacia lives is kind of a mix of a Fellini movie and Tod Browning's Freaks. Jack gets a job as a "frightener", where his duty is to cause people to feel emotions that would kill himself.

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It plays with metaphors

The movie takes some common idioms about love and life and makes them literal. For example, Jack has an actual key to his heart, and he wants to really give it to the woman he loves.

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It works, even when it doesn't

Some elements of the film, both cinematic and musical, kind of grate together; they don't quite mesh as well as Dionysos may have hoped. But that itself adds to the film's inexplicable charm.

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The finale

I greatly respect the movie's ending. There were many ways the film could have resolved itself, but it stayed true to its vision without becoming manipulative or mawkish.

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The mood and tone of the film

The melancholy whimsy of the film is like cotton candy spun around a burnt piece of wood from your childhood home. It's a musical, surreal dream that serves as a sweet way to swallow some very bitter medicine, indeed.

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Check out the official trailer for 'Jack and The Cuckoo-Clock Heart' below:

What do you think - an awesomely weird fable, or just a weird mess? Do you have a better ending for the movie? Let me know in the comments!

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