my life as a courgette
REVIEW BY DARA MCWADE
Children are more resilient than we often give them credit for. While the naivety of youth and inexperience can be seen as vulnerability, it can also provide strength, a tool to survive harsh conditions and harsher people, and to connect with others. My Life as Courgette, a new, Oscar nominated, Swiss-French stop-motion film does not shy away from dealing with the tragedies that children can be faced with. The film refuses to let its youthful characters be defined by their pasts.
Based on a children's novel Autobiography of a Courgette, and adapted by noted French director Celíne Sciamma (of Girlhood and Water Lilies fame), Claude Barris' film is a heart-wrenching and beautiful look at the resilience of children in the face of tragedy. Over it's relatively short sixty-six minute running time, Courgette succeeds in creating lovable, believable characters in a fantastical animated world that manages to still feel grounded. In short, this is a masterful film, and all the more impressive for it being Barris' directorial debut.
The film follows Icare, or Courgette, as he prefers to be called, as he becomes a child of the system and is placed in an orphanage. The opening scene is a stunning and striking exploration of his home life, eliciting the kind of dread reserved usually for horror movies, transporting you fully into Courgette's heart as his world crumbles. He is transferred to the orphanage by a kind police officer, and introduced to his classmates. At first, they seem intimidating and alienating; there is the bully who calls him potato, the girl who bangs a fork on her plate when irritated and the boy who wets the bed - Courgette awakes one morning to find them stealing his things. Yet every child has their own baggage, and it's to the film's credit that none of them are left on the outside, or painted as broken. Instead, they are just kids looking for a family.
The film plays with many conventions of the "children's comedy" genre. There’s the group caper (where the children plan something that becomes a set piece), the bully that wears a skull and bones and listens to metal, and of course a night time sneak out from school. Yet, even with all these genre standards met, the film gently subverts many of the associated tropes, for example, the caper is immediately found out and subsequently aided by an authority figure.
There is a warmth that emanates from even the bleakest moments of the film. The characters reach out and connect with one another through those darkest of times. Conflicts that would be the focus of another film are instantly resolved - the characters love and need each other.
The harsh world we live in cares not for innocence or experience, it can be a unforgiving place for children especially. Yet, there is still hope in that cruel, dark place; hope that can be found in other people, even if those people are as broken as you are. It's not too much of a spoiler to suggest that Courgette finds his new home, bonding with his fellow orphans and to the kind adults that go beyond the line of duty to create a home. They have all been abandoned in one way or another, but they create their own family within that vacuum. My Life as Courgette proves that while the world does not spare us tragedy, that tragedy need not define who we are, or who we can become.