My Life as a Courgette

 

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A light-sounding title hides a film of remarkable depth and pain.

 
My Life As a Courgette

  

It's a strange quirk of fate that sees two of the most exceptional animated films of the year - both European - reach Britain in consecutive weeks. First came Michael Dudok de Wit's Dutch film The Red Turtle, a work without dialogue, and now, close on its heels and released in both dubbed and subtitled versions, we have My Life as a Courgette from the Swiss animator Claude Barras. Not content to leave it at that, fate has also decreed that both films should run in parallel when it comes to quality. The upside of that is that no lover of animation can afford to miss either of them (and that is the key fact that really matters); the downside is that, to my mind, each film initially proclaims itself an out-and-out masterpiece and then falls away somewhat. For those who come to share my view, that means that with both works one eventually feels a sense of disappointment, but it is far better to celebrate the fact that regardless of their weaknesses each film is to be treasured (one puts it as strongly as that because both titles offer at their best scenes that are unforgettable and both will surely become classics).

 

These similarities extend to the way in which the initial scenes persuade us that animation can convey a sense of reality as potently as any film featuring actors: in The Red Turtle life on a desert island after a shipwreck is made uncannily vivid to us; in My Life as a Courgette the loneliness of a 9-year-old boy neglected by an alcoholic single mother could not be expressed more tellingly (the boy's name is Icare but he prefers the nickname of Courgette used by his mother). But, if the brilliance of the animation work is a common factor, the look of the two films could not be more contrasted. Barras uses stop motion animation and the figures with their huge expressive eyes seem so real that the use of the term 'marionettes' in the end credits almost comes as a shock.

 

Both films work best in their first half, but for different reasons. The Red Turtle develops in unexpected ways but loses consistency of tone in the process whereas in contrast My Life as a Courgette offers at heart a straightforward narrative depicting Courgette's life in a children's home after his mother dies. The other inmates, one a bully, become key figures, not least another newcomer, Camille, with whom Courgette bonds. The situations that led to these children being there are relatively grim in keeping with the film's opening scenes. But, as the film goes on and despite remaining compact (it lasts only just over an hour,) it changes in character. The relationship between Courgette and Camille blossoms into first love, Camille's aunt becomes the villainess to be thwarted and a more or less happy ending is provided. Some audiences may positively welcome that. However, all of this plays like an enjoyable, relatively standard animated tale whereas what precedes it conveys an emotional depth that takes animation into fresh territory altogether.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Voices of  Gaspard Schlatter, Sixtine Murat, Paulin Jaccoud, Michel Vuillermoz, Raul Ribera, Estelle Hennard, Elliot Sanchez, Lou Wick, Brigitte Rosset. English language version: Erick Abbate, Ness Krell, Will Forte, Nick Offerman, Ellen Page, Amy Sedaris, Ronny Beckman, Barry Mitchell, Clara Young.

 

Dir Claude Barras, Pro Armelle Glorennec, Éric Jacquot and Marc Bonny, Screenplay Céline Sciamma, Claude Barras, Germano Zullo and Morgan Navarro, based on the novel Autobiographie d'une courgette by Gilles Paris, Ph David Toutevoix, Pro Des Ludovic Chemarin, Ed Valentin Rotelli, Music Sophie Hunger, Costumes Christel Grandchamp and Vanessa Riera, Animation Dir Kim Keukeleire.

 

Rita Productions/Blue Spirit Productions/Gébéka Films Films/KNM/Rhone-Alpes Cinéma/France 3 Cinéma/Helium Films-Thunderbird Releasing.
67 mins. Switzerland/France/Monaco. 2016. Rel: 2 June 2017. Cert. PG.