Teodosia Dobriyanova on Claude Barras’s ‘My Life as a Courgette’ / ‘Ma vie de Courgette’ (2016)
My Life As a Courgette / Ma vie de Courgette is a stop-motion animation and the debut feature of the French director Claude Barras, a coming-of-age film that follows Icar (Gaspard Schlatter), nicknamed Courgette by his alcoholic mother. After she dies an accidental death, Courgette is left alone, affirmed in a scene where Courgette meets a police officer called Raymond (Michel Vuillermoz) who questions the boy about his family. Courgette’s mother is in the sky now. She used to drink a lot of beer, but sometimes she was nice and they had a lot of fun. His father? His father is a drawing on a paper kite. Mom used to say that he liked “chicks”, so Courgette drew a chicken on the other side of the kite. Left with the kite, an empty can of beer, and his nickname as the only memorabilia left of his family, Courgette is taken to a foster home where he meets a lot of orphans with a shared destiny. “We are all the same” — says one of the kids — there is nobody in the world left to love us.
From this moment on, the film goes on a mission to prove that this is not true at all. Courgette soon befriends Raymond who visits him frequently. The young boy sends his new friend letters, as well as drawings to accompany his stories about the days at the orphanage. The latter is inhabited by children who have gone through too much at an early age, but even the bully of the group is depicted as a soft, warm-hearted child that only wants to be loved. The orphanage soon becomes a home and the children — a family. Courgette goes on a journey of discovering the meaning of friendship, family, and falling in love for the first time.
Simultaneously funny and melancholic, My Life as a Courgette is a beautiful coming-of-age-story that offers the spectator a look at the world through a child’s eyes. Empathy is the primary modus operandi of the film, and it is achieved in various ways — from the big expressive eyes of the puppets, to the well-crafted screenplay by Céline Sciamma (Girlhood, Tomboy) that portrays the stories and hopes of the characters in a beautifully touching way. Barras’ film also manages to depict the world of childhood as a collective space where children understand and support one another, even when adults fail to do so.
My Life as a Courgette goes back and forth from moments of pure joy and light-hearted comedy to the tragedy of orphanhood. An ode to the neglected, Barras’s enchanting animation proves that everyone deserves to be loved. Such a narrative faces the temptation to lean towards mawkish sentimentality, but this film escapes such trappings. Sweet, tragic, sometimes hopeful and always beautiful, My Life as a Courgette is a film to relish.