Director: Claude Barras
Cast: Gaspard Schlatter, Sixtine Murat, Paulin Jaccoud, Michel Vuillermoz
Watch My Life As a Courgette online in the UK: Amazon Prime Video / iTunes / Amazon Instant Video
This French animation sadly has nothing to do with talking vegetables, but that disappointment will swiftly be forgotten. From the off, it’s clear that the film’s title is somewhat misleading: this isn’t a Pixar-like adventure about animated foodstuffs, but a serious, tender exploration of loss and family.
The stop-motion tale starts as a melancholic story of grief, as we see young boy “Courgette” (Schlatter) moved from his home to an orphanage, following the death of his cruel mother. It’s an incident that occurs quickly, matter-of-factly and immediately changes Courgette’s life forever. He cuts a quiet, shocked, sad figure at the police station, clinging to a beer can and a kite as mementoes.
Once at Les Fontaines, though, the tone smoothly eases into comforting territory, as we meet the odd, eccentric residents of the children’s home. What follows is a sweet study of lonely kids learning to trust and bond with each other. That’s led by the arrival of Camille (Sixtine Murat), on whom Claude quickly develops a crush, and she sparks the gradual revelation that each of these kids have their own tragic backstories that have brought them to the orphanage.
Abuse, deportation, drugs, theft, murder, My Life As a Courgette dares to tackle all of these issues seriously and sincerely – far from the kind of thing you’d expect in a PG-certificate film (this is an animation, but it’s not a kids’ film). But it broaches these things delicately, with a touch that’s so light and so subtle that it makes for rewarding viewing for tweens and up: every child’s story is examined with nuance, from their bizarre tics and their innocent perspective on adult matters, such as intercourse, to their shared sense of belonging found in this ragtag bunch. My Life As a Courgette’s 60-minute runtime may seem slight, but it packs a deceptively hefty emotional punch; the gradual evolution of the relationship between Courgette and Simon (Paulin Jaccoud), from antagonist bullying to best friends, is one of the most moving things you’ll see in a film this year, while Courgette’s blossoming attachment to kind police office Raymond (Michel Vuillermoz – voiced by Nick Offerman in the English-language dub) is handled with heartfelt sympathy that finds no difference in the healing power of human connection for grown-ups and children.
Yet there are laughs too, in abundance, as the surprisingly mature themes never get in the way of the movie’s warm sense of humour – a remarkable balancing act by Céline Sciamma (Tomboy and Girlhood), who adapts Gilles Paris’ novel with Germano Zullo, Morgan Navarro and Barras. The visuals are just as carefully sculpted, with a colourful, chunky texture that finds a perfect blend between poignant and authentic, unflinching and entertainingly accessible. From the weird-shaped kids’ faces to the cute soundtrack, this an irresistibly charming masterpiece, one made all the more so by its dainty running time: the only flaw with My Life As a Courgette is that it isn’t more of it. On the plus side, that leaves all the more time to watch it again. More French animations named after vegetables please.
My Life As a Courgette is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription.
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