An hour-long animation with a PG certificate. I know what you’re thinking: talking fish, feel-good songs and they all lived happily ever after. Wrong! For Claude Barras’ first full-length feature which was nominated for both an Oscar and a Golden Globe (pipped both times by the box office blockbuster that was Zootopia) deals with far more weightier issues than the bright-coloured poster and cute-sounding title suggests. Adoption, grief, loneliness, first-love and “the thing” that is sex to name that tune in five.
Based upon the 2002 novel Autobiographie d’une Courgette by the French author Gilles Paris, this modestly budgeted film ($8m against Zootopia’s $150m) tells the story of Icare aka Courgette who was sent to an orphanage at the age of nine after his father hit the road and his mother hit the drink. With nothing in his possession but a change of clothes and a rucksack containing two parental mementos – an empty beer can from his mother’s last six-pack and a chicken-emblazoned kite in honour of his adulterous father who “liked chicks” – hi ho, hi ho, an orphanage Co must go!
“Welcome to prison, potato head,” quipped the ginger-haired bully Simon before introducing him to several seasoned inmates including: mute Alice whose “real creep” of a father is baw deep in jail; the permanently scarred George whose mother suffers from OTT OCD; and several days later Camille who witnessed her father kill her mother before turning the gun on himself. “We are all the same,” says Simon, during a rare moment of vulnerability. “There’s no one else to love us.” Only there is: each other; the orphanage staff; a caring policeman-turned-foster parent; and their teacher’s pregnant girlfriend who astounds them with her pledge: she will love her child “no matter what”.
My Life As A Courgette is a beautiful little bud of film which in its own quiet and tender way blossoms like a rose. The plot by Céline Sciamma (in collaboration with Claude Barras, Germano Zullo and Morgan Navarro) might be simple and the running time short, but the issues are as complex as any adult drama (perhaps more so than most) and the manner in which the children engage with them is refreshingly blunt, humorous and honest. As for the stop-motion animation, its stark and stilted nature works to a treat in that the sadness it instils into each brightly-coloured frame mirrors the reality of the children’s fractured lives.
Though the moments which hit home the most are when director Claude Barras, cinematographer David Toutevoix and animation director Kim Keukeleire focus on the silent faces of the innocent children as they try to process a new piece of information or event which unlocks memories of the past and/or opens a door into a new way of thinking about how their lives might unfold such as when Courgette receives a goodnight kiss from a complete and utter stranger after being tucked into bed on his first night at the orphanage. Truly touching!