My Life as a Courgette Review
Disney dominates the animation market; it seems like every year, the rodent-fuelled juggernaut wins the Best Animated Picture Oscar. As a fan of animation, I find the chokehold that the house of mouse has over that aspect of filmmaking to be a little disheartening. There are so many other great animated films made every year and none of them get the look-in they deserve. If you are like me and are on the hunt for a great animated film then have I got the film for you: My Life as a Courgette (Zucchini, if you are in America).
Based on the book Autobiographie d'une Courgette by Gilles Paris, the film follows the Icare - though he prefers to be called Courgette - who finds himself orphaned after an accident kills his drunken and abusive mother. He is sent to an orphanage by a kindly police officer where he must adjust to his new life and make friends with his fellow orphans, who have similarly tragic life stories.
My Life as a Courgette is a unique film, to say the least. The visual style and design of Courgette's world is simple, colourful and strangely complex. The movie's visuals almost look like it is a children's storybook come to life. All the characters have large heads and small noodly bodies, yet the animators are able to use the faces of the orphaned children to express such deep emotions that you instantly connect to Courgette, Camille, Simon and all the other kids. Just by the subtle movement of an eyebrow or a glance an audience can tell exactly how a character is feeling and I was drawn in immediately.
I would describe the appearance of the film as child-friendly and I assumed that it would be a whimsical romp through the French countryside. However, the content of the story is anything but, this is a film that will scar you emotionally in that Disney way, like Bambi or Toy Story 3. My Life as a Courgette deals with some heavy stuff, I won't go into it too much detail because I feel that the appeal of the film is to see how dark it can get without expecting it. Just know that over the short 65 minute run time I was gut punched on multiple occasions. Every time you think the children of the orphanage are having a good time there is a reminder that their lives are not okay, and my heart broke every single time.
This film was made to a French language voice track, with an American-English version produced also, so the age old question of subbed or dubbed rears its head. I have watched the film with both language tracks so I can say with some authority that it will be up to personal preference. Naturally, the French language matches up better with the mouth movements of the characters, but you don't have to read subtitles with the English version (also they don't say Zucchini during the American dub which I was very happy about), but regarding performance, both tracks are packed full of them.
Erick Abbate (English) and Gaspard Schlatter (French) do a fantastic job as our young, vulnerable lead Courgette, while Paulin Jaccoud (French) and Romy Beckman bring out both the vulnerability and the brashness of Courgette’s friend/rival Simon. The other children also have perfect voices on either side of the Atlantic. I will say that the English language track has more recognisable voices in it with Will Forte and Ellen Page taking on small roles as adult carers in the film, while Nick Offerman is instantly recognisable as the kindly police officer Raymond.
I came to My Life as a Courgette as a fan of stop motion animation and expecting a children's film, however, I left it feeling bittersweet. The animation is charming, and the characters are incredibly likeable and sympathetic, but the dark underbelly got me thinking about those whose lives are broken by terrible adult things, like crime, and boarders, and substance abuse. Despite it being a film about a kid with blue hair and a head twice the size of his body, the film felt real and at its conclusion there is a glimmer of hope for Courgette and children like him. I would highly recommend that you hunt this film down, if not write to your local arthouse cinema because it is a film that you need to see, regardless of language track.
My Life as a Courgette is in UK cinemas from the 2nd June.