Before we begin, go see this movie. In this busy day and age there are many ways you can spend 65 minutes. You could make a cup of tea and watch one episode of a TV series. According to TFL you could travel from East Acton to Epping on the Central line (it would take an additional ten minutes to do the whole Central line – there’s your fact for the day). Or you could watch this, and break then warm your heart in equal measure.
In many ways 2016 seemed like the year of the animation, both mainstream and alternative. Let’s look at the Oscar nominees for Best Animated Movie – Zootopia, Moana, Kubo and the Two Strings, The Red Turtle (UK release of May 2017) and My Life as a Courgette, a film which shows just how powerful and evocative animated cinema can be. When Courgette’s (Abbatte, Daredevil) alcoholic mother dies he meets police officer Raymond (Offerman, Parks & Recreation) who brings him to an orphanage, the place where he will learn to trust and learn to love.
What follows is some truly moving cinema which, at times, led to my heart feeling like it was being shattered completely. It, like life perhaps, is made up of a series of key moments. We learn who Courgette is and care for him from the opening sequence – his, and those of his peers, are stories that feel all too familiar in real life but are that rarely seen in cinema. In many ways this is the closest stop motion has ever gotten to realism, be that Italian or British, but slightly more cushioned by optimism and the value place in love finding a way to shine even in the most darkest of times.
Obvious parallels could be drawn between this and Francois Truffaut’s The 400 Blows (1959) – both films portray young boys in unhappy circumstances ending up at a children’s home. The primary difference, and the one that makes My Life as a Courgette stand out from the majority of portrayals of such institutions, is how positively the orphanage is portrayed. Since time immemorial orphanages have been associated with bullies, be that children or adults, horrible conditions and an absence of affection. Jane Eyre, Annie, The BFG, A Little Princess, Oliver Twist – the list is endless. Instead, with this film, the orphanage is a place of true refuge for Courgette – from the outside world, from his past and from himself. It’s a place that rescues him and shows him that there is some good in the world.
As devastating as the film can be it is also sublimely joyous. The disco scene, as demonstrated here, is an example of the film at its most wondrous. As is its believable take on first love – as soon as Courgette tells Paul ‘she has eyes that go right through you’, you understand exactly what he is talking about. The film masterfully uses dialogue and silence, nothing said is wasted and sometimes the very absences are the film’s loudest moments.
The screening I attended, and presumably the version being released in UK cinemas, is the dubbed version. Although it didn’t quite have the brooding depths I had seen in the original language/subtitled trailer, the American cast still do a wonderful job. Police Officer Paul is voiced by Nick Offerman, a man who I would quite happily listen to read the phone directory or voice a sat nav. The familiarity of his voice, along with the associations I had with his being Ron Swanson from Parks & Recreation meant I had an instant affinity for his character – something which only added to my love of the film.
Though the film may have dark emotional depths it also possesses the brightest of lights. It shows that the very worst of unimaginable things can happen yet the human spirit can prevail. Love may not conquer all but it can help us heal, recover and keep on living.
And now we end.
Go see this movie.
Dir: Claude Barras
Scr: Céline Sciamma
Cast: Erick Abbate, Ness Krell, Romy Beckman, Nick Offerman, Will Forte, Ellen Page and Amy Sedaris
Prd: Armelle Glorennec, Éric Jacquot, Marc Bonny
DOP: David Toutevoix
Music: Sophie Hunger
Run time: 65 minutes
My Life as a Courgette is in UK cinemas from June 2nd.