Director: Claude Barras
Starring: Gaspard Schlatter, Sixtine Murat, Paulin Jaccoud, Michel Vuillermoz
In a week where we lost Peter Sallis, the voice behind one of animation’s greatest ever characters, it seemed fitting to be watching a film like Claude Barras’ My Life As A Courgette. Despite only being released recently in UK cinemas, Barras’ first feature-length (it clocks in at a smidge over an hour long, which just about makes it a feature-length film) was nominated for the Best Animated Feature Film at this year’s Oscars. It lost out to Disney’s Zootropolis, but after having watched it for myself, I’m quite puzzled by the Academy’s decision. However, that’s nothing new.
My Life As A Courgette follows the tale of nine-year-old Icare, who prefers to be called Courgette, just like his late mother did. An unfortunate accident leaves him orphaned, and he ends up being accompanied to an orphanage by a kind and sympathetic police officer, Raymond. However, instead of being one of the stereotypical nasty orphanages that cinema tends to depict, Courgette is greeted with open arms, understanding and much more love than he had experienced at home. He starts to become friendly with his fellow foster children and gradually comes out of his shell. Things become even more interesting for our young Courgette when a girl called Camille arrives, opening him up to new feelings and experiences.
My Life As A Courgette is one of those very special films that don’t come along too often.
My Life As A Courgette is one of those very special films that don’t come along too often. Naturally, due to the style of animation – stop motion – it reminded me of Laika’s work: Coraline, Paranorman and most recently, Kubo and the Two Strings. It also shared that same heartfelt quality that Laika’s pictures have in spades. Many people tend to talk a lot about what Pixar is doing in animation, yet I find that Barras’ movie and Laika’s films are far more innovative and sincere than anything Pixar has done in the last few years – Inside Out aside.
As I mentioned above, this is Barras’ first feature, and he’s really demonstrated an acute ability to hone in on what it must feel like to be placed in such a difficult situation. Even though I’m not an orphan myself, and have never gone through anything quite as traumatic as Courgette, I couldn’t help but empathise with him. I found myself welling up on multiple occasions. Everything felt so genuine, from the actual story, to the way the children spoke to one another about unbelievably difficult topics, such as being abandoned by their parents, or left with no parents whatsoever.
I want to watch [My Life As A Courgette] again right now!
Yet, My Life As A Courgette doesn’t wallow in the sadness of its subject matter. It’s actually a very hopefully story. Most films that handle being orphaned, or orphanages in general, have a tendency of depicting them as bleak places, where children are abused, either mentally or heaven forbid, physically. This is not that kind of story. Courgette unexpectedly finds more love and friendship at the orphanage than he’d ever experienced before. It’s a place that allows him to grow as a person, and the same can be said for the other children in the film, who all have their own torrid tales, yet are able to pull through them thanks to their friends and the people who run the orphanage.
It almost goes without saying that this is a beautiful film. Most stop motion animations look beautiful, but My Life As A Courgette is particularly pretty to look at. Barras uses bright and vibrant colours and there’s a handmade quality to the film which is really quite beautiful. I honestly don’t have a bad word to say about this film, and when it came to an end, I just sat there in the screening room, mulling over what I had just watched, and one thought came to my mind, “I want to watch that again right now!” Sadly, that was the film’s last screening of the day, yet I will be watching it again, very soon.