REVIEW: My Life as a Courgette (2017)

Director: Claude Barras

Cast: Gaspard Schlatter, Sixtine Murat, Paulin Jaccound, Michel Vuillermoz

Running time: 66 minutes

4-stars

After inadvertent tragedy strikes, 9-year old Icare (Schlatter) – nicknamed ‘Courgette’ by his alcoholic mother – is sent to a children’s home. Struggling at first to fit in, he soon teams up with bully Simon (Jaccound) to foil a wicked aunt from taking new arrival Camille (Murat) away. Amidst painful solitude, solidarity and romance soon blossoms.

Does seeing a film with Courgette in the title count towards your five-a-day?

Well if so, you can toss that bland, overdone broccoli aside, because this little French-Swiss dish most definitely counts for all five.

After being mesmerised by Michael Dudok de Wit’s breath-taking The Red Turtle last week, my respiratory system was once again in disarray as a result of the equally marvellous My Life as a Courgette.

Originally screened at the 2016 Cannes Film festival, and subsequently nominated for Best Animated Feature Film category at the 89th Academy Awards, this stop motion marvel marks director Claude Barras’ transition from acclaimed shorts to the world of feature film. Adapted for the screen from Gilles Paris’ 2002 novel, the film also boasts the screenwriting talents of Céline Sciamma, whose previous directorial works, such as 2014’s electrifying Girlhood, more than suggest she knows how to do youth well. The writing is precise and poignant here, without ever feeling the need to be excessively emphatic, and character backstory is constructed with unflinching transparency – Simon’s parents are drug addicts, Camille witnessed the death of both parents after a heated argument, while the other children are left parentless as the result of deportation, violence, criminality, and mental disorder.

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If The Red Turtle’s magnificence exists through its ambiguity, My Life as a Courgette is made brilliant in its honesty. It’s an unwavering insight into child abandonment; combining heart-breaking testimonies with delightfully innocent sexual jokes (we’re talking exploding willies and female ‘agreement’). Rebuffing a sentimentality often found in similar, more mainstream works, Barras’ film is all the better in its minimalist approach. The transcending, universal themes, emotions, and fears of such subject material are never over-egged, but are instead shown through much simpler, and altogether more powerful means; a character gaze, silent shrug, or boat made from an empty can of beer replaces the need for waterworks or orchestral intervention; and lingering camera shots say as much as any emotive character speech could. In line with such minimalism, it’s just a crying shame that this will also have a minimal cinematic release.

Barras’ deft use of primary colour, namely blues, reds, and yellows – indicative of a time when life should be just as simple – cleverly contrasts with the complex hardships and emotions the children are forced to experience. Similarly, the oddly shaped Plasticine characters and oddly shaped Plastcicine structures are steeped in realism, and there are some refreshingly unconventional character colours amidst Barras’ pallet, too. The film’s adult figures of authority, the typical villains in such stories – a police officer and children’s home workers – are, with the exception of a more generic, sinister relative, shaded with compassion, kindness, and understanding.

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And just as Sciamma’s depiction of gritty adolescence in Girlhood is laced with drops of optimism throughout, the shared anguish the children are burdened with here manifests as the very thing that binds, and ultimately unites them. Moments of unadulterated joy – such as snow resort disco dancing to Eisbär by Swiss band Grauzone, or a devishly clever plan involving an MP3 player that the kids from The Goonies would surely be proud of – mean that by the end of its snappy 66-minute run time, My Life as a Courgette has clawed hope from the dark recesses of childhood abandonment and despair.

A simple story simply told; My Life as a Courgette is simply wonderful.

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