Unique is not a word that is often used with modern day animation. With a wealth of studios offering variations on either talking animals or tried and true ‘be yourself’ storylines it is hard to truly stand out. My Life as a Courgette is a rare exception, visually and thematically distinctive from any other animation around.
When an accident leaves him orphaned, young boy Courgette is taken to the Fontaines orphanage. At first, he struggles to come terms with his situation and fit in with the rest of the kids. He gradually finds his place amongst the other children and, with the arrival of new girl Camille, experiences his first love.
Adapting Gilles Paris’ novel, Céline Sciamma (writer/director of French indie drama Girlhood) manages to touch upon tough issues of child neglect and abuse deftly, neither shying away from the subject nor dwelling on the children’s traumas. It also perfectly captures the imagination of children whether they are speculating on how sex works, attempting a hunger strike in solidarity with one of their number or just playing around and teasing one another.
In the wrong hands or format, My Life as a Courgette could either have been unbearably twee or too overwhelmed by the heavier aspects of the story. Claude Barras manages to balance the tone between moments of darkness (the opening where Courgette is orphaned is heartbreaking) and the joyfulness of childhood, best illustrated when the children visit the mountains for a break in the snow.
Feature stop motion animation is a rare beast in the era of CG films with only Laika and Aardman the only studios regularly crafting films in the format. My Life as a Courgette is rarer still, creating a distinct style with the oversized heads and features and bright colours conveying a childlike perspective and matching the content of the story. The film is also unafraid to have moments of stillness where the characters reflect on their situation or pause before taking action, something you’d not likely see in more mainstream frenetic, pop-culture heavy animations.
Both English language and French original versions are available on disc, with the US voice cast including the talents of Will Forte and Ellen Page in small roles as two teachers at the orphanage. More impactful are Amy Sedaris as Camille’s horrible aunt and, in particular, the ever brilliant Nick Offerman as the kindly police officer Raymond who looks out for Courgette.
Clocking in at under an hour without credits, My Life as a Courgette is rather slight narratively speaking. It is however a lovely film, full of warmth, emotion and humour. 2017 is proving to be a banner year for French co-produced animations with both this and The Red Turtle proving that there is great animated fare being produced on the continent. Vive la difference
My Life as a Courgette is released on DVD and Blu-Ray on Monday 18th September