My Life as a Courgette (PG)
“We’re all the same – there’s no one left to love us” – words spoken by and for the kids in the care home where this film is set. The Director, Claude Barras points us through sorrow and joy to see spirit, defiance and resilience. The film may look cute, but there is no Hollywood schmalz, just a thoughtful story told well. It puts sunshine into your soul and thoroughly deserved its Oscar nomination in 2017.
Claude Barras | Switzerland/France | 2016 | 66 mins | PG
Swiss-born Claude Barras based his film on a novel by Gilles Paris.
The picture opens with a young, blue-haired boy, who goes by the name of Courgette, living
uncomfortably with his boozy mother. He flies a kite through the attic window and builds
pyramids from mum’s empty beer cans. Any person who’s spent time alone as a child will
recognise the desperate effort to fill those hours with doodles and distractions. Following a
mishap, Courgette finds himself being driven to a children’s home by a well-meaning police
officer. There he meets kids who have problems of similar and greater magnitude to his
own. There are the makings of a brutal social-realist narrative in that scenario. But Barras
turns the piece into a celebration of little decencies and quiet kindness.
The stop-motion animation depicts the individual kids with great economy. One possibly
autistic girl expresses unease by allowing a curtain of hair to fall over an eye. Another fellow
has a plaster permanently between nose and eye. Courgette’s initial bête noire, a halfhearted
bully who is open to negotiation, sports an aggressive point of red hair in the middle
of his head. They are all damaged, but they all have something to give. Subtly subversive,
too, that the narrative should celebrate social workers and lend a sympathetic voice to a
policeman, all of whom are portrayed in an unfashionably supportive light.
Despite its serious subtext, the film has a playful, often joyous tone as the kids explore their
world and search for their places in it. Courgette likes to draw, and his crayon portraits of
the other kids and their activities add an extra layer of humour and charm. When one of the
younger boys asks Simon (from his vast store of knowledge on the subject) how grown-ups
make babies, and Simon cobbles together an answer out of hearsay and guesswork,
Courgette’s drawings illustrate that, too. I loved his initial picture of his dad on a homemade
kite, with a baby chicken on the reverse side, because all he knows is that his father “liked
chicks”. Some of the chicks on the wall wear high heels too!
Barras’ technique is a sophisticated update of classic stop-motion clay animation. Each
character is originally modelled in clay and painted, and then an articulated puppet is made
of each character, and coated in silicone, which is rendered to approximate the surface and
texture of clay on camera. But expressive details like lips, eyelids, and eyebrows, in various
positions, are moulded in clay and painstakingly applied to be shot one frame at a time. It’s
a laborious process—especially for a small, independent studio like Barras’ with only 10
staff animators. But the result is obviously a labour of love.
For the makers and handcrafters amongst you, you will just marvel at the details in the
cushions, the clothes, the décor itself.
My Life As A Courgette received an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature Film well
before it was even available in theatres. This is a lovingly crafted gem, an unconventional