My Life As a Courgette: ‘beautifully tender and empathetic’. Photograph: rita productions
Last week, I swooned over Michaël Dudok de Wit’s The Red Turtle, a French-Belgian-Japanese co-production which was nominated for the best animated feature Oscar. Also recommended in that same category was My Life As a Courgette (or My Life As a Zucchini in the US), a wonderfully affecting French-Swiss stop-motion masterpiece based on Gilles Paris’s book Autobiographie d’une courgette. Directed by feature first-timer Claude Barras from a screenplay by Girlhood writer-director Céline Sciamma, this tale of resilient children surviving abuse and abandonment may sound tough and unpalatable. Yet despite the spectre of parental alcoholism, drug addiction and worse, this beautifully tender and empathetic film addresses kids and adults alike in clear and compassionate tones that span – and perhaps heal – generations.
We first meet nine-year-old Icare, nicknamed Courgette, alone in his room, surrounded by crayons and empty beer cans, the detritus of a dysfunctional home life. Downstairs, his mother belches and curses at the television (“Liars! Filthy liars!”). A torn family photo establishes the absence of a father, a blank space on to which Courgette has projected fantastical dreams of a superdad. But after an altercation on the staircase (“I think I killed my mum”), he finds himself sent to a children’s home where, in the words of one resident: “We’re all the same. There’s nobody left to love us…”