DIR: Claude Barras • WRI: Céline Sciamma • PRO: Aremelle Glorennec, Éric Jacquot, Marc Bonny • ED: Valentin Rotelli • MUS: Sophie Hunger • CAST: Gaspard Schlatter, Sixtine Murat, Paulin Jaccound, Michel Vuillermoz, Paul Ribera, Estelle Hennard, Elliot Sanchez and Lou Wick
Colourful, emotive and nuanced, My Life As a Courgette is a Swiss/French stop-motion film that doesn’t shy away from the sobering realities of many children in care homes. Icare (Gaspard Schlatter) – or, as he prefers to be known, Courgette – has been living with a neglectful mother who has fallen into alcoholism following his father’s abandonment. After she threatens him in a drunken rage, Courgette knocks her down the stairs, a defence which accidentally kills her and leaves him all alone. Policeman and social worker Raymond (Michel Vuillermoz) steps in to take the young boy under his wing, bringing Courgette to live in a care home with other children who so far have had difficult lives. After an initial bout of teasing from firecracker Simon (Paulin Jaccound), Courgette settles in as the children band together and slowly open up. The arrival of Camille (Sixtine Murat), a calm and kind foil to Simon’s rebellious chaos, signals a significant, loving moment for Courgette, and soon for the others in the care home as they try to stop Camille being taken by her abusive aunt.
A breath of fresh air from the usual tropes of mistreatment and disinterest established by care-home narratives such as Annie (1982), the adults looking after the children are kind and gentle, and strive to ensure comfort and safety. Raymond is also dedicated to believing and protecting Courgette and his friends. Despite this loving atmosphere, the children themselves still suffer the weight of the trauma that streaks through their everyday lives. An early round-up of the members of the care home reveals children who have been abandoned, neglected, beaten, or otherwise physically or emotionally abused. Importantly, the overarching presence of this trauma is not shied away from or ambiguously communicated in the hopes of providing comfort for the audience or a mere backstory for the characters. Instead, again and again, it is approached head on, as, even in the softest and happiest moments, both the characters and the audience are retriggered into the awareness of slow recovery.
Supportive friends, playful events and bright colours are presented as instances which sooth and aid healing, but don’t distract from the understanding that recovery is also intensely personal and non-linear. Béatrice (Lou Wick), a young girl whose mother has been deported, is a constant signal of trauma as an ever-present shadow as she repeatedly rushes to the door in the hopes that every arriving car contains her mother. Alice (Estelle Hennard), another young girl whose abusive father is described as “a real creep”, uses her long hair to hide the scar running the length of her face, and passes her time methodically trying to break the world record for most hops in Chinese jump rope. In one poignant moment, her triumphant progress is cut short as the rope slips and wraps round her ankles, trapping her and reefing her from a fun game into a tangled reality.
The best take-away from My Life As a Courgette is the process of learning to appreciate little victories, and that building your own family can prove and provide strength you once thought unimaginable. It is a reminder that life isn’t set out in neat little bundles, but is confusing, messy and sometimes painful, and the most important thing to do is learn to understand and grow from this realisation.
Sadhbh Ní Bhroin
12A (See IFCO for details)
My Life As a Courgette is released 2nd June 2017