have big heads and even bigger problems. They might be stop-motion animated
figures, but they understand they are too old for adoption to be a practical
possibility. Instead, they will have to make the best of things in Claude
Barras’s My Life as a Zucchini (trailer here), which screens
during the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.
nothing else, Barras teaches us “courgette” is the French word for zucchini.
Nine-year-old Icare prefers his rather odd vegetable nickname, for a host of
complicated reasons. That was what his drunken mother used to call him, before
Zucchini accidentally killed her in an instinctive act of self-preservation.
Since his father has long-absconded, he is remanded to an orphanage, where his
preferred moniker will draw the bullying attention of Simon, a longtime
resident. Why yes, Zucchini has been
picked up by GKIDS, why do you ask?
a while, things look decidedly Dickensian for Zucchini. However, Raymond, the
kindly policeman who worked his mother’s case, periodically drops by to check
on him. Life takes a turn for the better when the spirited Camille moves into
the home (following her parents’ murder-suicide). He takes an instant liking to
her and it seems to be mutual. However, unlike the other children, she wishes
to stay in the foster home rather than moving in with her shrewish,
Zucchini/Courgette is not your
typical merchandising-friendly animated film. Adapted from Gilles Paris’s YA
novel (which is reportedly even more naturalistic than the film), Barras and
screenwriter Céline Sciamma (a prominent French filmmaker in her own right) are
dealing frankly and forthrightly with some serious subject matter. They do so
in a way that will make young viewers appreciate not being talked down to and
have animation fans admiring the way they stretch the dramatic use of the art
Zucchini was a labor of love for
Barras and his design team, because all the sets, backdrops, and costumes have
been crafted with extraordinary care. As grim as things get, there is something
about the look of the orphanage that inspires hope. Ultimately, the narrative
also gives viewers a bittersweet glow. This review is based on the original
French language dialogue track, which features some unusually sensitive vocal
performances, particularly Michel Vuillermoz as Raymond the copper, so the
English dub cast better not screw it up. In fact, it sounds downright terrific
thanks to Swiss jazz-crossover musician Sophie Hunger’s lightly grooving soundtrack.
just under seventy minutes (FYI, with a short stinger midway through the
closing credits), Zucchini stirs
quite a few emotions in a relatively short span of time. Rather deservedly, it
already has a reputation as the little-film-that-could, having secured a Golden
Globe animation nomination and a spot on the best foreign language Oscar shortlist.
Indeed, just about anyone should respond to its deep humanistic embrace. Very highly
recommended, My Life as a Zucchini screens
again this afternoon (1/22) and this coming Saturday (1/28) in Park City, as
part of this year’s Sundance.
Labels: Animated films, Sundance '17, Swiss Cinema