- Directed by
- Andrea Dorfman
- Tanya Davis, Stephanie Clattenburg and Stewart Legere
beating calmly in your cage
where nothing can upset you, rouse your pace
And the steady rhythm
says you're steady livin'
But if you're tame, like a kept beast,
how voracious can your heart beat?The above passage comes from As Beats Go By, a spoken-word song composed and performed by Tanya Davis, the singer-songwriter and former Halifax poet laureate who stars in the melodic indie film Heartbeat. Davis is Justine, a youngish musical woman who has stage fright both on and off the stage. The song threads its way through a soulful film about being alone, dealing with societal expectations and freeing one's true self from self-imposed pens. It's a lovely effort from the Haligonian director Andrea Dorfman – hers is an offbeat, human story that addresses personal risks and life decisions.
Justine lives in her late grandmother's bungalow. She keeps it the way granny kept it, and even wears her old-lady bras. Justine sleeps with her ex-boyfriend (the artist Ben, portrayed with excellent beard and nuance by Stewart Legere), works a copywriter job without passion, has husband-wife friends about to embark on parenthood and doesn't play her guitar much any more.
She's in a rut. Dorfman's Heartbeat watches the attempt to pull out of it.
On the Bandcamp site for the film's soundtrack, Davis describes herself as a poet/writer/artist type who tends to put words at the centre of her work, whether in music or performance. Speaking of performance, Heartbeat marks Davis's acting debut. "It was my first time film acting," she writes. "It was amazing and vulnerable-making and scary."
So, this first-time actor probably understands her character pretty well. There is charm to Davis – her Justine is small-voiced, hesitant, attractively awkward and softly wise. You could also apply those adjectives to Davis's virgin work in front of the camera.
On the other side of the camera, Dorfman's direction is visually expressive and decorated with animation.
As well, Heartbeat is a love letter to Halifax. Shot in early fall, the tones are warm, be it in scenes that star the Company House pub, the park at Citadel Hill or the Halifax Folklore Centre (which is used for a comfy music shop called Strings and Things).
There are guitars on the wall at Strings and Things, where a folksy proprietor (naturally named Arlo) helps Justine pick out a new guitar. "When you play the right one, it's like your whole world shifts," he says. "It's like fallin' in love."
So, metaphor. The guitar and her heart – neither instrument being played enough. Justine, who approaches lesbianism while attempting to flower, replaces her dainty acoustic model with a snazzy electric one.
It isn't just stage fright Justine is trying to overcome, it's life fright. Watching the character gently break her way out of her cage is rewarding. Dorfman's Heartbeat strikes a chord for the meek of will but strong of heart.
One day, life startles you awake
rattles you, unsettles you
tempts you from your cage
Will you look, then, bravely, to the door
even though afraid,
would you make a move towards it?
Life is knocking
Come on out, it's calling you forward