Director: Claude Barras
Screenplay: Céline Sciamma, Claude Barras, Germano Zullo, Morgan Navarro
Runtime: 65 Minutes
Stop-motion animation has come a long way over the past decade, aided by advances in technologies from digital embellishments to 3D printing techniques which allow a much faster process in the wake of digital photography and exhibition. The stories being told vary from the fanciful and bold to the intrinsically mundane, which is a place where My Life as a Courgette finds itself most comfortable.
Based on Gilles Paris' 2002 novel Autobiographie d'une Courgette, we see the day-to-day life and practise of the orphanage in which the young Icare (nicknamed Courgette) now resides following the death of his mother. The subject matters that the film cultivates and touches on in both the background and foreground of this story are harrowing accounts of insinuated violence, substance abuse and crime which fill in the backstories of the children – brave enough never to shy away from the darkness of world even when in the company of the children who have suffered at the hands of their hostile environments.
This is the first major feature by Swiss director and animator Claude Barras, and at a length of only 65 minutes feels like a brisk yet humble insight into these children’s lives. The animation is beautifully simple, with round and lovable designs to the children with large and weary eyes through with their souls are laid bare, with the colour pallet of a children’s crayon drawing in its depiction of the world from their perspective. It’s the lingering glances, quiet frames and heart-breaking individual moments of realism that help inform their characters through motion and action (or rather inaction). Such as a young girl running to see if her mother has arrived at any opportunity, or the devastating indication of torment in another as she nervously taps her plate with her cutlery when under stress.
The characterisations are also drawn through moments and interactions in a collaborative screenplay that notably includes French filmmaking darling Céline Sciamma. The dialogue is sweet and occasionally sombre, but always in keeping with the joyous experience of being a child with jokes concerning water balloons, nicknames and a sweetly naive understanding of sex through such playful terminology as a man “exploding”.
Somewhere between the dark power of Adam Elliot's Mary and Max and the light humanism of Jacqueline Wilson, My Life as a Courgette has found a place to allow it to stand and breath freely as a unique and charming picture that wants to see the good in people, especially those in authority such as the social workers and police officers who form bonds with the children in their care. Quietly shattering at points but always with a positive and humorous outlook.