Directed by Claude Barras
Starring Gaspard Schlatter, Sixtine Murat, Paulin Jaccoud, Michel Vuillermoz
Animated Film Review by Chris Olson
Stop-motion animated film, My Life as a Courgette (original French title Ma vie de Courgette), is a stunning piece of exquisite filmmaking, directed by Claude Barras and based on the novel by Gilles Paris. It tells the turbulent story of Icare or Courgette (Gaspard Schlatter) as he prefers to be called, who ends up in an orphanage after his mother dies where he is surrounded by seemingly hostile children that are the same age as him - an age that’s deemed unlikely to find a new home. Having been brought there by a caring policeman called Raymond (Michel Vuillermoz), and starting to make friendships with some of the other young people, Courgette may just be able to find his ability to love and trust again, especially when he meets Camille (Sixtine Murat).
In what is a beautiful story, told without the usual patronising tone that so often accompanies stories about child hardships, Barras delivers a film that treats young people as the intelligent, thoughtful, and yes vulnerable human beings that they are. The characters, who have an infinite amount of quirks and interesting foibles, are brought to magical life through the expressive stop-motion and all have some fundamental aspects missing from their upbringing. The lack of adult supervision and guidance is not a cure-all for what ails them, instead it is one component of many which makes up the tapestry of coming-of-age. It was wonderful to see Courgette learn from, and teach, the others at the group home, who benefit from helping each other and working together to solve the mysteries of live. Some of which were hilariously misguided, such as thinking that sex involved exploding willies!
Barras was able to highlight the strong thematic throughlines of Paris’ story, which was written for the screen by Céline Sciamma, along with Barras and Morgan Navarro as contributing writers. Trust was a recurring issue for many of the characters and the multilayered representation of adulthood was spectacular - offering various degrees of cynicism and passivity alongside love and helplessness. The way that the outlook of each child varied so much depending on their experiences was beautifully poignant, especially that of Simon (Paulin Jaccoud), who has the most affecting development and arc. His initial antagonistic approach to Courgette is totally believable, as is his redemption which comes as the fruits of friendship and trust. Love is an idea which emerges numerous times. Do you need to be related to love someone unconditionally? Will there always be a fear that a non-relative will leave you eventually?
The sound design is enrapturing, working brilliantly with the visuals to create this immersive world and add lovely moments of pathos or sensitivity. There is a boldness to the animation that made it feel really current and relevant, which is remarkable given the leaps that the genre has made in recent years. Reminiscent of some of the best stop-motion movies ever made, like The Boxtrolls, The Lego Movie, and James and the Giant Peach, My Life as a Courgette is a technical triumph. Combine this with the thematic gravitas which is delivers, giving films like Hugo and again James and the Giant Peach a run for their money, and this is an outstanding film to behold.
Available in English subtitles and English dubbed, My Life as a Courgette straddles that most exclusive of genres. A piece of stop-motion world cinema that appeals to young and old viewers alike, making some fantastic comments about growing up and life in general along the way. Superb.