Published Sep 08, 2014Andrea Dorfman's Heartbeat is a big step forward for the Halifax filmmaker, building on the strengths of her 2010 short How To Be Alone, which has racked up more than six million hits and counting on YouTube. Collaborating once again with singer-songwriter and 2011 Halifax poet laureate Tanya Davis, Dorfman crafts an elegant tribute to the city's music community.
Reminiscent of Sarah Polley's affection for Toronto in Take This Waltz, Dorfman succeeds in creating a deeply personal and intimate story while also taking us on a tour of the city she loves, swapping Polley's late summer magic-hour sunsets for dense Halifax harbour fog and the bright red and orange leaves that bury sidewalks in the fall.
Davis is wonderful in her first starring role, bringing generous amounts of honesty and energy as an artist itching to break away from her dreary job as a copywriter for a data management company. When her boyfriend breaks up with her and moves away, Justine (Davis) decides to finally return to songwriting after a disastrous live performance years ago. Justine soon meets Ruby (Stephanie Clattenburg), a young drummer, and the two strike up a creative partnership, working on songs and helping Justine to confront her stage fright. Dorfman truly excels here, in showing the excitement of the creative process in a way that feels real, letting us in on the personal details that let songs come to life.
Davis contributes her own songs and poems to the film, which flow throughout the film's soundtrack, occasionally pausing for Davis to express her eloquent spoken-word interludes, which are coupled with lovely animation by Dorfman. The collaborative process on display contributes to the film's handcrafted feel. These touches make the film feel truly intimate, while expanding on many of the themes they explored in their How To Be Alone short.
While the film may feel small, it is rich with specific lived-in details, shooting on location in popular musician hangouts like The Company House and local darling Ben Caplan's Open Mic House. Thanks to the strength of Davis' performance, along with Dorfman's rich approach to story and theme, Heartbeat is a great success. (Mongrel Media)