My Life as a Zucchini (My Life as a Courgette) Review:
This year at the Oscars the animated features category offered some surprises. Along with frontrunners Zootopia Moana and the under-seen Kubo and the Two Strings, lesser-known titles The Red Turtle and My Life as a Zucchini were also included. The French-Swiss stop-motion coming-of-age film My Life as a Zucchini, or Ma Vie de Courgette, is a beautiful, poignant, exquisite gift of a film. It’s visually quirky, artistic, blunt, and nostalgic all at once. Were it not for the need to reward the genius of Kubo, which was an inexplicable box-office failure, those who make the effort to see My Life as a Zucchini will secretly hope it sneaks in and steals the Oscar. If by some miracle it takes the award home, it does so with my blessing.
This story, based on Gilles Paris’s novel Autobiography of a Courgette, is of little boy Icare, who prefers to go by the name Zucchini, living in disarray with his ever-drunk mother. She spends her days ignoring him and muttering curses at the TV. He has decorated the attic, where he spends his time, by drawing all over the walls, and building forts from beer cans. A series of events swiftly leads to his being orphaned and placed in foster care with other children without family. It is there that he finds friendship, kinship, and safety, through relationships with the motley collection of kids with varying degrees of damage from their former lives. There’s a bully with a badly bruised heart, a child with a twitch from being abused, a girl with whom Zucchini feels a unique bond, and other assorted sad sacks, each brought to life with a unique mixture of odd colors, geometry, and very French facial expressions. You haven’t seen a gallic shrug put to better use, or ever made more heartbreaking, than with a stop-motion, animated orphan who has all but given up hope for the future. If it sounds grim, it isn’t. It’s just very French. That is to say, it explores life in a brutally honest yet amusing way. These kids see the truth of life, but attempt to remain open. That’s the beauty of this whole movie. It’s kids who have been through too much at a very young age, choosing to make their experiences together the springboard for a better life, not a ruined one.
As in life, the adults run the gamut here. The policeman who took Zucchini’s case and placed him in the home is very sweet to him. Those who run the home, who protect and take care of the children, bring them all the happiness they can. In fact, My Life as a Zucchini is like a tribute to loving social workers. There’s also a villain of sorts, who seeks to take one of the children, whom she disdains, to live with her so she can get government money. Don’t worry. It may be a hard knock life, but these orphans know how to take care of each other.
My Life as a Zucchini won the Audience Award and the Cristal Award for Best Feature at the 2016 Annecy International Film Festival, as well as building up a number of other wins and nominations on the awards circuit. Most theaters are showing the film in both English and French. I love that it has a female screenwriter in Celine Sciamma, who is a rising writing/directing star from whom I hope we’ll all hear and see more very soon. Since i’m from France, and always prefer to see a film in the original language, I saw it in French, which I would recommend. For what it’s worth, the English version stars Will Forte, Nick Offerman, Ellen Page, and Amy Sedaris. As to age appropriateness, bear in mind there is discussion of sex, suicide, death, and alcoholism, and it’s rated PG-13. It’s also highly stylized and artistically executed, so those with esoteric kids, (and you’re out there!) this film would be a great experience for viewing and discussion. Let’s hear it for the success of quirky animation!
Playing at Landmark E Street starting March 3rd, and other theaters around the country: