Directors: Beth David, Esteban Bravo
Watch In a Heartbeat online: YouTube / Vimeo
Every Sunday, we review a short film available online. We call it Short Film Sunday.
My heart was about to burst out of my chest. How many times have you heard that? In a Heartbeat, a new animated short, takes it literally – and the result is absolutely delightful.
The film follows Sherwin, a teenager with a crush on someone in his class. First love, unrequited feelings, schoolboy crushes. These are all familiar sights on our screens, and they’re universally relatable, but In a Heartbeat has a crucial twist: Sherwin’s crush is Jonathan. The idea of a homosexual relationship being at the heart of an animated short might not seem like a big deal – and, in an ideal world, it wouldn’t be – but when was the last time you saw a gay romance in an animation?
Directors Beth David and Esteban Bravo present their sweet tale with the rounded 3D and colourful simplicity of Pixar’s best – and that visual style, which, like many animations, owes something to the House of Mouse, only reinforces just how groundbreaking this is. It was only earlier this year, in 2017, that Disney had their first notably gay character in Beauty and the Beast’s LeFou, played by Josh Gad. A gay lead? Uncle Walt still hasn’t given us that.
For adults, that’s a shame, but one that we can celebrate to be finally happening, 50 years after homosexuality was decriminalised. For teenagers, though, it’s more relevant than ever: for kids in the closet, having a school crush is even harder, as they face both the fear of rejection and the fear of bullying from classmates.
“It wasn’t until Esteban and I decided to switch it to a same-sex crush that the film started to feel like a personal story that we were invested in. It was the kind of story we wish we had seen as kids,” reflected David and Bravo in an interview.
Others clearly agree: the film has struck more than a few chords this week, racking up 52 thousand views on Vimeo and over 19 million on YouTube. The phrase ‘pent-up demand’ is an understatement.
But while the short’s significance must be addressed, it doesn’t detract from just how brilliant it is. David and Bravo take their literal twist on an oft-heard cliche to gloriously poetic heights, as Sherwin’s affection flies out of his body and races after its object.
There’s a winning slapstick to the innocent chaos, as Sherwin struggles to both cover up his bursting feelings while hiding from Jonathan. Ducking behind hedges, jumping into bins, the exaggerated physical comedy sits along the best of Pixar in the humour stakes. The double-terror of being outed, though, lingers underneath it all, as the frame is crowded by circling silhouettes of people staring at our central couple in the corridor.
The lack of dialogue only accentuates the elegant simplicity of this silent story. The eyebrows on Sherwin and Jonathan alone are fantastically expressive (even Sherwin’s heart has strong eyebrow game). There’s a sentimentality to the Elf-like music, composed by Arturo Cardelús, but it’s delivered with a touch as light as a feather that makes this accessible for all ages.
The result is incredibly impressive for a debut film only published as a college graduate project – a reminder of growing pains that everyone goes through, of the impact diverse representation can have even on a small scale, and proof that being important and good aren’t mutually exclusive. In a Heartbeat will charm you in a moment. Give it 240 seconds and your heart will be soaring.
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