My Life As A Courgette
This Swiss/French claymation feature centres around an artistic young boy whose official given name is Icare, but he prefers to be called by his nickname Courgette. One day, while hiding from his abusive, alcoholic mother in the attic, he knocks over a sculpture he made out of her discarded beer cans. The commotion causes her to explodes in a violent rage, so to avoid her hurting him he slams the trapdoor on her head, unwittingly causing her death. Since his father is also long gone from his life, he is taken into a foster home where he meets several other abandoned children, each one with their own sad story to tell.
While there he is initially bullied by red-headed troublemaker Simon, but soon wins his respect when he fights back after the latter steals his kite - which has a hand-painted picture of his father one one side, and a picture of a chicken on the other (since his mother always told him “he really liked chicks”). He also strikes up a friendship with Raymond, the police officer who initially took him to the home.
Soon afterwards, a girl named Camille arrives. She has a noticeable effect on these damaged children as she reveals a skill for bonding with the most withdrawn members of the group. Courgette, himself learning about the concept of male-female relationships from the less-than-expert Simon, starts to feel a connection with her. However, their blossoming friendship is put in jeopardy when Camille’s cruel aunt decides to take her back in order to get an extra handout from the state.
My Life As A Courgette is visually packed with charm, colour and detail. Its wide-eyed stop-motion characters vividly capture the innocent emotional register of children, and there are a number of whimsical little easter eggs woven into the shots to amuse eagle-eyed viewers: a knitted blanket with a space invader pattern, a Kafka book with a picture of a bug on the front. However, the candy-coloured visuals coat a story that tackles some unusually sensitive and difficult subject matter for a family film.
The children depicted here have been abused in every way imaginable: if not by their parents, then certainly by the brutal nature of the adult world. On the other hand, the film does bring a chink of light into their lives in a manner that doesn’t feel forced, but derives naturally from the group’s sense of discovery about one another. There’s nothing that feels too stretched in terms of how pre- or barely-pubescent children really talk and behave. They are not stupid or ill-informed; they are aware of adult subject matter such as sex and politics, but have no grasp of the finer details. Simon describes the act of sex as the man and woman “wiggling together”, while another foster child named Ahmed, whose father has been imprisoned, keeps throwing buckets of water over the fundamentally decent Raymond just because he’s a policeman.
There’s a non-patronising honesty here, coupled with a sense of tact that avoids drenching the film in despair or making it graphically unsuitable for a younger audience. It’s a beautiful film, maybe a little slight in terms of overall storyline but amply rewarding considering the small investment of time required from its viewers (barely over one hour in a present day cinematic landscape where most other films insist on lasting at least twice that long).
Runtime: 66 mins
Dir: Claude Barras
Script: Céline Sciamma, Germano Zullo, Claude Barras, Morgan Navarro, from a novel by Gilles Paris
Voices (English-language version): Erick Abbate, Romy Beckman, Susanne Blakeslee, Olivia Bucknor, Will Forte, Ness Krell, Barry Mitchell, Nick Offerman, Ellen Page, Finn Robbins, Amy Sedaris