My Life as a Zucchini
(Rating: PG-13 – Runtime – 1 hr. 10 mins. – Genre: Animation/Drama/Comedy – Director: Claude Barras – Writers: Gilles Paris (novel), Celine Sciamma (screenplay) – Stars: Gaspard Schlatter, Sixtine Murat, Paulin Jaccoud, Michel Vuillermoz)
This French language film follows the story of nine-year-old “Icare” (“Courgette” or “Zucchini” in English) as he is unwittingly orphaned and sent to a foster home. Once there, he discovers the meaning of hope, friendship, and true love.
Director Claude Barras’ stop motion feature is a real achievement. He brings a group of disparate orphans to life with finesse and reverence. Barras expertly captures the squishy, painful awkwardness of youth with an elegance that will ring hauntingly familiar with many.
The characters are wide-eyed and vulnerable. The viewer can’t help but feel Courgette’s loneliness and depression as he struggles to find footing at the foster home.
Early on, he is confronted by the resident bully, “Simon” (Paulin Jaccoud). The two soon make peace and viewers discover the catalyst behind Simon’s oppressive behavior.
The film is permeated with a genuine melancholy. The viewer lives Courgette’s sadness. That, however, is not to say it’s an entirely morose film. One key relationship in the boy’s life is with “Raymond” (Michel Vuillermoz), the police officer who took Courgette to the orphanage after the passing of his mother. Raymond shows Courgette stability and affection that he has not previously experienced.
Courgette (Gaspard Schlater) also discovers first love when he meets the plucky and resilient new resident “Camille” (Sixtine Murat). She quickly captures Courgette’s tender and damaged heart.
The plot thickens as Camille’s selfish and greedy aunt attempts to wrest legal guardianship of her from the state. This would take Camille away from the orphanage, and Courgette, forever.
Despite being animated, the film has been rated PG-13 and may not be suitable for every age group. As children are apt to do, there are points in the plot when the characters clumsily attempt to deal with their blossoming sexuality. And issues such as divorce, physical abuse, and molestation come up in regards to the backgrounds of the others. For a youngster capable of understanding such topics, this could be used by parents as an entry point for discussion about such sensitive issues. However, that would really depend on the child in question.
Zucchini was Switzerland’s entry for the “Best Foreign Language Film” category of the 89th Academy Awards earlier this year. While it certainly isn’t perfect–I feel segments of the narrative are glossed over due to the work-intensive nature (and cost) of crafting a stop motion film–it just brims with spirit and optimism.
My Life as a Zucchini is a very special film. It reminds us that even in the darkest of times, a ray of sunshine is still to be found.