Review: Ma Vie de Courgette dir. Claude Barras (French Animation Film Festival 2017)
Stop-motion animation has come a long way since the early days of The Nightmare Before Christmas and Aardman Animations, with new studios such as Laika taking up the mantle and creating gorgeous works of art, coupled with engaging, intimate storylines. Claude Barras’ Ma Vie de Courgette continues that trend, and despite its bug-eyed, blue-haired protagonist and innocuous sounding title, possesses a deeply powerful story that will resonate with adults and whose multi-hued visual palette will appeal to the kids.
For the opening night of the 6th French Animation Film Festival in Singapore, Alliance Francaise specially brought in this work for one night only, alongside a cocktail reception and a Q&A with puppet director Gregory Beaussart. Adapted from Gilles Paris’ 2002 novel Autobiographie d’une Courgette, Ma Vie de Courgette is Swiss director Claude Barras’ first full length film, having previously directed only short form animations, and is already a stunning triumph, having premiered at Cannes 2016 and selected as Switzerland’s official entry for the Academy Awards for Best Foreign Film.
Ma Vie de Courgette follows young Icare, nicknamed ‘Courgette’, a child from a broken family who ends up in an orphanage. Although picked on at first, he manages to warm up to them eventually, and in true orphan fashion, ends up on a moving adventure that shows off the wit of children and the power of love and family.
Ma Vie de Courgette is quirky enough to remain a visual spectacle throughout, and combined with the universal fascination of watching the magic of stop animation, will keep your eyes enthralled at every step of the way. With its portrayal of gorgeous, snow covered landscapes and tiny classroom victories, there is a natural joy that emerges from the medium alone. Despite being a film that appears aimed at kids, Courgette bravely tackles dark subjects, such as alcoholism and domestic violence. Not being a native French speaker, I automatically thought about the Jacqueline Wilson novels I used to read as a child, where kids from broken families would star as the protagonists and engage in similar hijinks.
It’s honestly hard not to fall in love with Courgette’s cast of wide-eyed, hopeful orphans, and always presented as realistically behaving children: curious and prone to occasional cruelty, but ultimately symbols of innocent youth and incredible potential. Protagonist Courgette is a slightly off-kilter, affected child who’s also very sweet and wildly inventive. His equally young crush Camille is just as winsome, capturing our attention with her precociousness and spunk, while hiding a dark history, still bearing the scars of her past. Even initial bully Simon get his redemption arc, and you’ll find your own heart aching for his happy ending by the end of the film.
Simply put, it’s easy to see why Ma Vie de Courgette has been nominated for countless awards. With a familiar storyline that feels fresh told through the captivating medium of stop-motion and unforgettable characters, Courgette is a triumph of both French cinema and animation, filling audiences with a warm fuzzy feeling amidst bearing the burdens of real life. It’s a film that gives you hope and laughter, and sometimes, that’s pretty much all you need to make a good film.
At the Q&A session, it was heartening to see plenty of kids in the audience filling up the cinema, bringing great French cinema to the masses and from such a young age too. As a small animation studio, the entire budget was only 6.5million Euros, as opposed to a bigger animation studio, which might have been able to go up to 30million. Still, the studio persevered and came up with a polished, professional final product worthy of praise and accolades. For puppet director Gregory Beaussart, the most difficult scene to animate was the disco scene, which took two entire weeks to do! Once again, Alliance Francaise Singapore has launched another successful run of the annual French Animation Film Festival, and if you didn’t get a chance to catch Courgette, don’t worry, there’s plenty more exciting, quality films filling out the schedule over the weekend.