Inspired by Gilles Paris’s Autobiographie d’une courgette with a script by Céline Sciamma – the writer-director of Girlhood – My Life As a Courgette is a deeply moving portrayal of troubled childhood and one of the greatest films of 2017.
This French-Swiss stop-motion production opens with the introduction of our young hero Icare, otherwise known as Courgette, amusing himself by building a tower in his bedroom. It takes us few moments to realise that he’s constructing this tower out of empty beer cans, tossed aside by his alcoholic mother as she slurs accusations at the television. The fact that this behaviour has become normal for Courgette, who uses the remnants of his mother’s addition to aid his own childhood spirit, reflects the tragedy at the heart of Claude Barras’ debut feature.
Things take an even darker turn when Courgette attempts to place one final can on his tower, sending it crashing down and provoking his mother’s wrath. “I’m going to give you the beating of a lifetime” she screams as Courgette, pleading for forgiveness, slams the trapdoor leading to his room. A loud crash is followed by deadly silence and Courgette, having peaked below, cradles his kite in an attempt to comfort himself. In these short minutes our heart already bleeds for him, such is the power of this understated film.
Assisted by a kind police officer, Courgette is moved into an orphanage for young children who all have their own tragic story to tell. Simon, the bullish leader of the group who is sweeter than he lets on, has been taken away from his drug addicted parents; Ahmed’s mother was snatched by immigration officers while he was at school and Alice, a girl whose erratic behaviour alludes to a trauma too drastic to share on screen, are just some of the children living at the shelter. Believing “there’s nobody left to love us” the children find strength in each other, unknowingly becoming their own family.
The film’s somber yet uplifting tone makes it easy to see how Barras drew inspiration from the Disney classic Bambi. Without stealing focus from the film’s serious subject matter, My Life As a Courgette conveys a story of hope and redemption as we learn our beloved characters have much more than they realise.
With a runtime of just 70 minutes, My Life As a Courgette packs more emotion than most 2+hour epics and is undoubtedly one of the most heartfelt films of the year.