by Amie Cranswick, published on June 1, 2017 - 11:02 AM|
After his mother’s sudden death, Courgette is befriended by a police officer, Raymond, who accompanies him to his new foster home filled with other orphans his age. At first he struggles to find his place in this often strange and hostile environment. Yet, with Raymond’s help and his newfound friends, Courgette eventually learns to trust and love, as he searches for a new family of his own.
The fingertips of Ken Loach stains each plasticine figure in Claude Barras’ wonderful, sobering stop-motion My Life as a Courgette. Beneath the bright animation is an insightful study of child abuse and mortality, tackling trauma with the deftest of touch whilst avoiding cloying sentimentality. These grandiose themes, rather clearly, rarely pop up in films aimed at children, and Barras-alongside writer Celine Sciamma who brings with her experience of kitchen sink realism-tread carefully. It’s a bravado feat.
Nine-year-old Courgette lives with his mother, an abusive alcoholic. Alone in the attic, he takes solace in a kite adorned with a drawing of his supposed superhero father. Following a bender, his mother returns home, and in self-defense, Courgette kills her. There, he finds himself at orphanage “Les Fontaines” alongside children with whom trauma has also affected.
It’s here where Barras takes the plunge. Each child has a backstory mournful and distressing: drug addict parents, incarcerated fathers, a mother deported, an argument that resulted in the death of both parents and most shockingly, a victim of abuse. Yet in the safe space of the orphanage-there’s no burdensome, odious matron to be found-surrounded by others affected by events similar, they find a solace.
There’s no feeling of finality in tragedy, nor that of the orphanage as an end point. Where the film absolutely deals in emotional hardship, it is never bogged down in the melancholy. Barras spins a yarn that overflows with a yearning for optimism, and the animation-a smart contradiction to the abrasive woes the children suffered previously-acts as a vibrant foil.
Character designs have uniformity; each have floor scraping arms and big, fantastically expressive eyes. Courgette in particular has eyes perennially embellished with bags bright blue. Stop-motion animation brings with it a weathered, damaged aesthetic; fingerprints and scratches adorn Courgette, each character is slightly crooked and off kilter. For the most part, Barras’ keeps the characters contained within the orphanage, and in doing so, when they have a day out to a ski resort, the animation pops. Stop-motions adds layers to the charmingly subversive narrative choices and in doing so, avoids what may have previously felt akin to an after-school special.
Writer Celine Sciamma’s, who’s directorial works: Girlhood, Tomboy and Water Lilies all have a similar unsentimental understanding of what it is to be young and damaged, ensures the film maintains it’s pathos whilst never erring towards the cloying.
The soundtrack also charms. The quiet guitars are as discerning as the animation yet again, they add additional layers to the gut-wrenching tragic realism.
My Life as a Courgette is a gob-smacking piece of cinema; so unafraid in its commitment in examining child trauma it almost begins to resemble a therapy session. Yet, it never preaches from the rooftops, instead, it shocks quietly and all the better for it. It wears its scars proudly and devastates in buckets. It’s one of the very best films of the year.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★