My Life as a Courgette
LFF 2016: Hugely lovable and perceptive animation from debut feature director Claude Barras
There's a tender and moving sequence very early on in Swiss director Claude Barras's profound stop-motion animation that visually sums up how the orphans in his debut deal with the trauma and tragedy that has been inflicted upon them. We see nine-year-old Icare (voiced by Gaspard Schlatter), who likes to be referred to as 'Courgette' (a nickname his alcoholic mum gave to him), sitting quietly alone in his attic bedroom carefully assembling a sculpture out of leftover beer cans. Just as Courgette creates something beautiful out of his sadness, so too do the filmmakers craft something special in their insightful exploration of how a gang of abused children living in a group home try to make the best out of their situation.
It's incredible how deeply you fall in love with the characters in a film that runs for a succinct 66-minutes and that's down to a combination of a frank screenplay (from Girlhood's Céline Sciamma), adapted from Gilles Paris's novel, and the brightly designed models, whose giant eyes superbly convey a multitude of thorny emotions. The way in which the children speak to one another is perfectly judged too. The kids' candid discussions about sex and other adult topics artfully highlight the things some of them have been privy to at an early age, while also perceptively showing how they can misinterpret certain subjects due to their naivety.
Though all this sounds pretty heavy-going, the film deals with the material in such an imaginative manner and with such levity that the children's playful interactions make for extremely heartening, often giggle-inducing viewing that a younger audience can fully enjoy. As events progress, Courgette's melancholy shifts into positive productivity thanks to the friendships he strikes up with his peers and the caring adults he encounters. All ages will benefit from the constructive message relayed in this charming tale of tolerance and understanding that extols the value of grasping on to the good in life, without overlooking how difficult it can be for some to get there.
Screening as part of the London Film Festival 2016. General release TBC.