My Life as a Courgette, dir. Claude Barras│ Céline Sciamma’s 2014 film Girlhood impressed with its depiction of a young girl’s coming-of-age in the Parisian banlieue. Refusing any sugar-coating of the social and more personal difficulties faced by its central character, Sciamma nonetheless demonstrated her belief in the possibility of a better life and the power of determination. Her script for Claude Barras’ 60 min animated film My Life as a Courgette adapts these principles to a younger protagonist with darker challenges to face but makes for an equally engaging, optimistic and emotionally complex end result.
The film takes its rather strange title from its protagonist. Icare, who indeed prefers to be called ‘Courgette,’ is a 9-year old boy who finds himself moving into the Les Fontaines orphanage after an accident that, in retrospect and given the bleakness of his previous life, does not exactly play as tragedy.
Courgette’s new roommates have all been brought to Les Fontaines to be protected from negligent or dangerous parents or after traumatizing experiences. However, just as it refuses to depict directly the brutal death of Courgette’s mother, the film chooses not to represent the other kids’ suffering on screen. Instead, they are let to discuss their past between themselves and with the naivety and bluntness that goes with their young age. Adopting a kind and respectful approach to introduce the heavy subject of child neglect and even abuse, the film’s opting for inference and offhand naivety is in tune with its characters as they themselves cannot comprehend the terrible things they’ve experienced and are trying, unconsciously perhaps, to forget them.
Sciamma’s script, based on the novel “Autobiography of a Courgette” by Gilles Paris, employs the tropes of the coming-of-age story to not only tackle the common hardships that come with growing up, but also to offer an optimistic answer to the feeling of abandonment specific to orphans. Here, meeting a nice girl is more than a step towards adulthood for Courgette. This new and unexpected source of affection allows him to understand that there are, after all, still people left to love him. And as all the children become attached to each other despite their own particular scars, they begin to understand that they are still lovable themselves. Through this bonding, they start allowing themselves to dream of a better, more peaceful life in the future.
The lightness of the animated kids film format allows My Life as a Courgette to better strike a punch when its candid characters offer dark insights into their past and their emotions. One devastating recurring device has one of the kids, Béa, running outside the orphanage every time a visitor arrives, convinced that her mother is coming back for her. Yet the sadness that her desperate hope communicates is not progressively lessened as the motif is repeated. Rather, a touch of irony and humour makes this disheartening sight more bearable and even somewhat doubly touching, especially since the bleak ridiculousness of the situation isn’t lost on the kids themselves. Sharing their pain with each other and laughing (respectfully) about it together, Courgette and his new friends learn how to live, and love, with their pain. ■
My Life as a Courgette / Ma Vie de Courgette│ Director: Claude Barras│ Screenplay: Celine Sciamma, Germano Zullo, Claude Barras, Morgan Navarro │ Camera: David Toutevoix│ Editing: Valentin Rotelli│ Music: Sophie Hunger│ Cast: -│ Producer: Max Karli, Pauline Gygax, Armelle Glorennec, Eric Jacquot, Marc Bonny│ Production Company: Rita Productions, Blue Spirit Productions, Gebeka Films, KNM│Country: France / Switzerland│ Year: 2016│ Running Time: 66 min.│ International Sales: Indie Sales│