"Celestial Clockwork" is an elfin fantasy that will enchant believers in romance, magic, the power of music and the benevolent face of fate. It's a film where people have visions, dreams come true and cynicism had best be left by the door.
This is the kind of venture where a bride named Ana abandons her intended at the altar in Venezuela, arrives in Paris still in her wedding dress clutching a poster of her beloved Maria Callas, and immediately joins an obliging airport cabby (and his dog) in an aria from Rossini's "La Cenerentola."
That opera, a retelling of the Cinderella story, is not there by accident. A production of it is critical to "Clockwork's" plot and the entire film can be seen as a riff on the classic fairy tale, right down to evil stepsisters and storybook love affairs.
Writer-director Fina Torres, like her heroine a Venezuelan who works in France, won Cannes' Camera d'Or for her first feature, "Oriana." One of her aims here was to showcase Latin American life in Paris, but she's also made that rare film where gay, lesbian and heterosexual relationships are all portrayed with the same natural and playful pleasure.
Working with a multinational cast, Torres is fortunate to have Spanish actress Ariadna Gil playing Ana. Excellent in the Oscar-winning "Belle Epoque," Gil has a glowing, photogenic presence that makes her ideal as the kind of ethereal dreamer the movie fates always take care of.
In Paris to pursue her dream of becoming an opera singer, Ana moves in with a quartet of Latina acquaintances. She finds a friend in a gay waiter (Frederic Longbois), a teacher in a cranky old Russian (Michel Debrane) and a potential roommate in Alcanie (Evelyne Didi), an eccentric therapist who treats people only via closed circuit TV.
But Ana's open, soulful simplicity incites the jealousy and hostility of Celeste (Ariel Dombasle), an ultramodern video and performance artist who is as ambitious as she is trendy.
Their rivalry crystallizes around a new production of, yes, "La Cenerentola," to be directed by young genius Italo Medici (Luis Homar). Ana knows that she's destined to play the title role, Italo knows someone destined for the part is out there, but a rather large number of obstacles keeps appearing to put this sure thing into reasonable doubt.
Adding in a subplot involving a shaman named Toutou (Hidegar Garcia Madriz) who is a master of magical love potions, "Celestial Clockwork" threatens to lose its fizz from time to time, and even at 85 minutes takes longer to work itself out than more impatient viewers will want.
Counterbalancing this is the film's gentle use of fantasy, its willingness to fool around with all kinds of music, not just opera, and a graceful spontaneity. When it's at its best, "Celestial Clockwork" floats right off the screen into our surprised eyes.
* Unrated. Times guidelines: genial presentation of gay, lesbian and heterosexual relationships.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
Ariadna Gil: Ana
Ariel Dombasle: Celeste
Evelyne Didi: Alcanie
Frederic Longbois: Armand
Luis Homar: Italo
A Miralta Films presentation, released by October Films. Director Fina Torres. Producer Fina Torres. Executive producer Gerard Costa. Screenplay Fina Torres, in collaboration with Daniel Oier, Blanca Strepponi, Telsche Boorman, Yves Delaubre, Chantal Pelletier. Cinematographer Ricardo Aronovich. Editors Christiane Lack, Catherine Trouillet. Wardrobe Ariadna Papio. Designers Claire Dague, Sandi Jelambi. Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes.
* Exclusively at the Royal, 11523 Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angeles, (310) 477-5581.