Adapted by Mathias Malzieu from his own bestselling novel and the gold-selling album by his band Dionysos, JACK AND THE CUCKOO-CLOCK HEART is a whimsical and visually opulent animated fairy tale set in an exciting period full of fabulous inventions, unforgettable characters, enchanting music, and fantastic adventures. Edinburgh, late 19th century. Little Jack is born on a day so cold that his heart remains frozen. Madeleine the midwife saves his life by inserting a cuckoo clock in place of his defective heart. It will work, she warns him, as long as Jack observes three golden rules. First of all, he must never touch the hands of the clock. Secondly, he must control his anger. And last, but certainly not least, he must never, ever fall in love. The moment Jack sets eyes on a young girl singing on a street corner, the hands of his clock-heart begin to race. Desperate to find her again, Jack launches himself into a romantic quest that will lead him from the lochs of Scotland, to the city of Paris, and all the way to Andalusia...

Virginie Besson-Silla, Producer:

“When I first read the book, The Boy with the Cuckoo-Clock Heart, I was immediately moved and charmed — as were Luc and our children. They listened to the songs over and over again for more than a year! Then we met Mathias Malzieu and it was obvious — we had to produce the film. And despite the fact that Mathias had never directed a feature film before, it seemed logical for him to take the reins of this project, because no one knew the story as intimately as he did and only he could oversee both musical and storytelling functions. On the other hand, we all agreed that he should have the support of a co-director, who could be helpful on the technical side. He quickly suggested Stéphane Berla, who had never made a feature either, but who had directed music videos. They made a convincing pair!”

INTERVIEW WITH MATHIAS MALZIEU

FROM PAGE TO SCREEN
A Personal Project

“After writing the book Maintenantqu'ilfait tout le temps nuit sur toi, I wanted to hold onto the character of Giant Jack. I delved into his origins and imagined that he could have been born in Scotland on the coldest day in history and his heart would be frozen. So the character had a clock protruding from his chest and had one great frailty — he couldn’t fall in love. He had been saved but it was impossible for him to feel any strong emotions. That’s Jack’s story. That’s what allowed me to approach everything I wanted to talk about in the book, namely passionate love and a tolerance for difference.”

Choosing Edinburgh

“The city is closely linked to the character. Giant Jack is a creature of the night, a kind of benevolent vampire who has a great need to help others. And, in my imagination, he had a Scottish accent. I went to Edinburgh about fifteen years ago and I found the ambiance in the old city really moving. It has this house-of-cards feeling that’s fragile yet scary. That city so inspired me that I decided to set the action there. I liked to imagine where Madeleine, the woman who mended Jack's heart, lived — in a house on the top of the hill where King Arthur was purportedly buried. It seemed to me that I had found a nice balance between a reality, full of inspiring historical landmarks, and all it left to the imagination. I like to build bridges between the real and the imaginary to varying degrees, and the city of Edinburgh lent itself wonderfully to that.”

From Pinocchio to Fellini

“I wanted to talk about passionate love and a tolerance for difference, which are two very powerful themes, with the idea of an adventure lurking behind them. I wanted to do something like The Little Prince or Pinocchio— without pretending to hold a candle to them — only slightly more surreal, with imagery that’s a little more out there. People often mention Tim Burton, and I love the relationship between beauty and monstrosity in his work. But I feel closer to Jim Jarmusch and his slightly weary characters, or to the baroque yet tender side of Fellini, or Freaks by Tod Browning, who also broached the subject of difference, in a slightly unsettling yet poetic and sweet way. I might also mention Edward Gorey and Jean-Pierre Jeunet, a very free artist who I really like and hope to pay tribute to with this film. I love combining different tones, which is why I’ve intertwined the fairytale with the reality of Edinburgh, and I tried to pull very human, very real emotions from the images.”

A Cinematic Dream

“I wrote the book and composed the songs with the idea of ultimately making a film, but there was no guarantee that that would ever happen. When I cast the actors to give voice to my characters on the album, I already had dreams of directing — Jean Rochefort as Méliès, Rossy de Palma as Luna, Arthur H as the city’s quintessential homeless drunk, who only survives the coldest day in history thanks to his colossal blood alcohol content... Those ideas were already taking shape in my head as I was writing. I like to move from one means of expression to another and I thought it would be fabulous to explore the world of cinema with this material in mind. Then I was lucky enough to meet Luc and Virginie Besson, who helped me develop the project.”

A Magical Meeting

“We met on the set of LeGrandJournaltalk show. It was a scheduling stroke of luck and the stars aligned... I spoke about my film fantasy and Luc asked, ‘Do you really want to make this into a movie?' I said, 'I’d love to! My dream is to make an animated film based on my songs and my book. I'd love to explore the poetic side of animation.’ I wanted to create characters that were like little jewels, like incredibly moving, broken toys capable of eliciting profoundly human emotions. Luc and Virginie liked that idea. Our discussions were very natural. We were really caught up in the magic of the project’s creative potential. Nothing was set in stone. We didn’t think, ‘This is for kids,’ or, ‘It’s aimed at an adult audience.’ We just wanted to recount the story in the hope that it might appeal to as many people as possible. At the time, I was on tour with “The Boy with the Cuckoo-Clock Heart” concert series. I played the songs all week long, except on Mondays, when I worked on the script with Luc and Virginie and showed them the first visuals. They approved the script within a few months, in an extremely easy way, despite the fact that this was a very big project.”

A Wonderful Artistic Challenge

“In terms of screenwriting, I listened to all their advice. I didn’t have much distance from that very personal story and the characters that I knew like the back of my hand. In discussing the adaptation, our challenge was to capture the spirit of the book and the record in movie form. I was so excited by this project but I realized that, to remain faithful to the spirit of the book and album, I had to take another path. But I was forced to make some hard decisions along the way. Luc warned me that, if my book were shot as is, the film would be five hours long. So I had to prioritize the characters and the subplots. It was a very weird experience. As the writer of both the book and the songs, my characters were part of me.

They had an emotional resonance. But I was forced to make choices and to cut some of them out, which isn’t always easy. Luckily, Luc was there to guide me, like a benevolent ally. I loved the adaptation process because I’m a storyteller. In the end, being on stage is also a kind of storytelling.”

A New Experience

“In the animation studio, I felt a little like the pilot of a Boeing 747, sitting at this gigantic console. I could just flip a switch to change the color of the characters’ hair, change the texture of the floor or a sofa, add strings to a guitar, etc. That process was tough because I had to keep everything fresh emotionally, while delving into that whole technical side, yet to make sure that the technical never overwhelmed the narrative. It was a daily mission. You learn more each day — not just technically, but in terms of working with a crew. I had to figure out how to work with a crew that was so big that I didn’t even know everyone’s name! I usually like to improvise and follow my instincts. If I don’t, I feel like the result isn’t right.

But in this case, tons of tasks had to be organized and structured. I was lucky to have such great collaborators, like Luc and Virginie, my co-director Stéphane Berla, illustrator Nicoletta Ceccoli, and my production manager Jean Baptiste Lère. Not to mention our fabulous graphic design crew. I must say that it’s magical to be in a space with 120 people, all working so hard to bring the characters we dreamed up to life.”

It’s All In the Eyes

“We wanted the look in our characters’ eyes to be photorealist. Stéphane Berla and I did some tests ‘tracking’ the actors’ eyes to recreate their gazes in the film. Well, that would be a great idea for a short film or a music video, but for a feature film with 1,270 shots, it was way too risky. We focused a huge amount of our energy on the characters’ eyes, to make them as realistic as possible. Even though we chose to create these somewhat stony figures, a little like delicate china dolls, we wanted to be able to shoot them up close, and wanted them to be beautiful. We were well aware that they had these huge heads and were slightly distorted — bordering on weird — but they still had to have elegance about them. So it was absolutely essential that their porcelain skin and, again, their eyes were perfect. I am so grateful to the Belgian craftsmen who accomplished that feat.