Moving, life-affirming tale delicately threaded with themes of redemption
Film review: My Life as a Courgette (PG), 8.5/10
Claude Barras' stop-motion animated fable is a deeply moving and life-affirming addition to the pantheon of fantastically fruitful films that includes the Grapes Of Wrath, The Scent Of Green Papaya and Wild Strawberries.
Elegantly adapted by screenwriter Celine Sciamma from Gilles Paris' 2002 novel, My Life As A Courgette runs to a sprightly 66 minutes but packs a bigger emotional wallop than films twice the length.
Small is indeed beautiful and every hand-crafted frame is delicately threaded with themes of alienation, guilt, jealousy and redemption that should strike a deep emotional chord.
The film doesn't shy away from broaching issues of sexual abuse, self-loathing and immigration but does so with artful sensitivity, navigating dark waters without recourse to mawkish sentimentality.
In order to showcase this Oscar nominated little gem to the widest audience, Barras' film screens in two versions: subtitled and English language dubbing by Ellen Page, Nick Offerman, Will Forte and Amy Sedaris.
If you're fortunate to have a choice at your local cinema, err towards the French language original as naturalistic performances complement the stunning visuals.
Nine-year-old, blue-haired Icare (voiced by Gaspard Schlatter), who answers to the nickname Courgette, lives in a sparsely furnished room in the attic.
He shares an untidy home with his mother (Natacha Koutchoumov), who rages against her ex-husband by throwing empty beer cans at the TV screen.
During a drunken rage, the matriarch takes a tragic tumble down the stairs and a caring police officer called Raymond (Michel Vuillermoz) spirits the boy to an orphanage run by caring headmistress Madame Papineau (Monica Budde).
Other residents include Ahmed (Raul Ribera), Alice (Estelle Hennard), Beatrice (Lou Wick), Jujube (Elliot Sanchez) and Simon (Paulin Jaccoud), whose angelic smiles conceal horrific tales of abandonment and abuse.
Initially, Simon picks on Courgette and tries to extinguish the flickering flame of hope of escape: 'We're all the same. There's no one left to love us.'
The boys eventually bond and Courgette confesses his sin.
'I'm here because I think I killed my mum. I didn't mean to,' he confides.
The arrival of a spunky girl called Camille (Sixtine Murat), who is embroiled in a custody battle with her money-grabbing aunt Ida (Brigitte Rosset), changes everything and encourages Courgette to open his broken heart again.
'I'm happy I was brought here,' Camille tells him sweetly. 'Otherwise I wouldn't have met you.'
My Life As A Courgette is one of those rare films that charms by virtue of pure, unvarnished emotional honesty.
Barras' uncluttered direction maintains a steady pace and errs away from visual flourishes that would distract from the characters' healing.
Heartstrings are gently plucked by distinctive animation and a talented ensemble cast led by 13-year-old newcomer Schlatter, whose vulnerability is highlighted in an adorable additional scene embedded in the end credits.