My life as a Courgette : A Film Review 

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My life as a Courgette  Duration 1hr 6mins  Rating PG

Directed by Claude Barras, Produced by Armelle Glorennec, Éric Jacquot, Marc Bonny.  Screenplay by Céline Sciamma, Claude Barras, Germano Zullo, Morgan Navarro.  Book. Based on Autobiographie d’une Courgette by Gilles Paris, Music by Sophie Hunger, Edited by Valentin Rotelli, Distributed by Gebeka Films, Duration. 66 minutes. Country. Switzerland, France, Language French with English sub-titles.

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Scenario

Adapted from the Gilles Paris YA novel by France’s youth friendly screenwriter, Celine Sciamma (“Tomboy,” “Girlhood”), Swiss director Claude Barras’ “My Life as a Courgette” shows how life for a young child removed from a family setting, is challenged while he forges his identity as he moves into in a Children’s Carehome home.  His name is a means of ensuring singularity and the writer skillfully deploys this stop animation film as a quasi scoping out of systems of care while making it a benign film suitable and not too troublingbone would hope and so far it’s is borne out, for young children themselves.  There is a dry direct biological sense of humor which goes beyond the nasty smelly forty traits and is partly uses sexual references.  Whether kids not in a French language course get the subtitles they may find it difficult catching up the adults who are skilled at joining visuals and sub-titles up instantly as a by product of seeing good well written art house movies which this is and which delivers its humour with colourful rapid firepower.

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Stop motion identity

Life as an animated Swiss boy is in the hands of many people.  Identity is for others to manipulate and guide.  Courgette has to be flexible and obey the stop motion process to do what is willed.  Tedious as that may seem Courgette manages to escape his mentors and creators to an imagined inner sanctum which hadn’t started too well.  Firstly as a lone child without domestic comforts in an attic we see the colours of Courgette’s world in the sketches and crafts scattered around his loft bedroom. From it is the view of a large town which he explores with his kite.  A Spider-Man character drawn on one side which he submits to his conscious as his lost father.  We hear from below a loud television in the act of transmitting daily dramatic arguments in the form of a dialogue his mother Madame Courgette is transfixed by with the contributing factor of vast quantity of tiniest which are discarded and strewn all over the floor which Courgette observes with a resigned detachment.

Madame Courgette is partially responsible for her own downfall from this point onwards as the scene is set for Courgette moving out and on to a more pleasant stop motion activity involving children of his own age, around 11, and in a pleasing outskirts of town even countrified environment of a detached children’s home.  Before he gets there we meet the paper filling Monsieur Raymond a Gendarme whose function is to oversee the placement into care of this little lost boy.  Monsieur Gendarme becomes attached to the story as an evuncular near retirement policemen which the stop motion life has assigned a slightly disjointed French gendarme type nose, long and typically Gallic-ly thin whose own circumstances relate in a way to Courgettes whose name by the way is of his own invention.  His identity is what is the mast and sailing device needed to navigate the stop motion world and life.  His guide can be his imagination which we see his personality hidden yet emerging as highly coloured under the baggage of this domestic altering life. He comes over as constricted optimistic creative kind with doubts filling many of the junctions he is asked to traverse.  No male guide in the form of a moral compass or initiator open to adventure, no maternal loving parenting or emotional regulator nor any sign of a mind being educated exceptbthrough his own ingenuity.

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Parental Breakdown

Cleverly the circumstances of domestic life are thrown up in the air (literally in a way) and this begins a new adventure which Monsieur Gendarme take him into past the high rise estates, the motorway connections onto open country along the rolling quieter rural idyll which even enables Monsieur Gendarme to relax into his self adopted role. Sturdy an assured in purpose they arrive at a large attractive detached house to be greeted by two staff members and at various windows inquisitive children.  The matronly Madame Principle (have to continue with this means of naming them as it is not in the directors mind to ‘label’ them Raymond excepted, and I presume it must derive from his upbringing as say being know to his friends as Bean or such like.  Then he became a runner for a film crew etc.  for which the this film listing has about 15!) has a large topped hair tower and round Corbusier glasses which apply her short sightedness over onto a Courgette in a Breton black matronly way.  She is formidablé though confident enough in her complexity not to be overbearing and with Rose, a name escapes beneath the allusion, is a young teacher and nurse, cleaner, cook, gardener, general ‘factotum’ whose task it is to do as Nadame asks and without fuss or even being visible.  This is a stop motion circumstance the flexibility of Courgette is well able to handle as his assertive side comes out particularly concerning his name.  Odd as it is it is not to be found elsewhere except the variations across languages give it another more exotic calling as nom de plume, Plum, people have been named even Pip.

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Play time

The new surroundings are populated by a rag-tag of children placed there through no fault of their own from backgrounds of immigration, child abuse, orphaned, drug addition with a company of teachers, attendants whose care is essential to their settlement.  The narrative is one not normally travelled and it is what gives the film a pvery strong story.  Courgette is in a strange environment and shares his dormitory with the other boys and the assertive Simon who is the self appointed leader guide and spokesman being a well developed foil and thought provoking element.  Simon is troubled himself and reacts by being defensive and assertive.  Form early on we see the different personalities around the meal times and playtimes.  The young male teacher with the job of educating them is a lively active kind with an amourous relationship with Rose and together they arrange a trip to the Alps and a ski- resort.  Being a fashionable retreat the kids onl have initially sleighs and the odd set of skis to play with and there is a contrast of class in some interactions.

Another clever detail.  Every Ski-resort has its Apres ski and here Courgette and his pals have a good time in the multi-coloured disco ball atmosphere of the cabin.  Earlier this week while listening to the Radio Ulster duo of – cruel as it happens but I’ll label them! – Smashy and Nicey – Stuart and Rigsy revel in the new radio studio all bells and whistles with 21st century controls.  So when a track starts in the semi gloom the lights dim further and Rigsy can barely control his excitement as a green blob spiralls and decorates all the walls of the space age domain.  Child like frenzy is happening man especially we’re music and disco lights are concerned.  It is one of many delightful carefully segued scenes and the story takes on more characters including Courgettes close love interest, the shy Camille.  Camille is a helper and observes others traits and vulnerabilities while not attending to her own.  Her Aunt arrives on the scene commando style Camille seeks assistance in trying to avoid being taken away from this place of comfort and refugee.

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All the kids have found a place of safety and enjoy the way things open up to them.  Things aalways change and the writer makes concessions to this by placing favourable developments to counter the other less savoury elements, not that they are overplayed in either event.  The world has set them numerous problems and this story is a neat compact telling of the formative years while dealing the smarts on rearing children without harming their future.  They have at the same time to loose the baggage other children do not have which not to bear.  It is a very intelligent and sympathetic film touching in its confronting difficult issues, seldom tacked in film and animated to a level which is infectiously enjoyable.  You may know what a Courgette looks like. Look out for the other oddity veggies, L’Artichoke, L’Aubergine.   The attention to detail is fun and plentiful.

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Conclusion ####4

Running for only 66mins this is nevertheless a fully formed piece not lacking in pace, message, interesting characters, sympathetic and emotional moments dealt with a carefully script.  There is a mad American overdubbed edition which while it helps children keep up with the jokes and continual wordplay, at times involving sexual references in Gallic flavored morsels.  It is essentially a universal story but it Gods up extremely well in the Foreign/Native language version subtitled in the U.K.  Be careful which one you arrange to see as both versions are being screened by Quens Film Theatre and on General release there will also be choices.  Children are very adaptable to cartoon driven and adopt favourites depending on their own personality.  The Ghilbi Animations are pure gold and carry lots of layers often found compelling to adputs in their literacy also.  This is not a vexing or very deep message but is full of good outcomes and peppered with lots of vibrant beautifully visual content which will see the hour and a bit pass without you know it and oddly thinking that it was longervsuch is its immersive connective joy.

John Graham

2 June 2017

Belfast

on at Queens Film Theatre Belfast from 2 June 2017 through to and including 8 June 2017 and on general release.

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