So right now, as I’m writing this, the Flatpack Film Festival in Birmingham is coming to an end. I wish I could have seen more films during the festival but I’ve been thankful for the films I’ve seen, both of which were nominated for the most recent Oscar for Best Animated Film. The first, The Red Turtle is a masterpiece and I thought it would be difficult for any film to come close to it, but, whilst not quite as incredible as The Red Turtle, My Life as a Courgette is still an incredible, poignant film.The film focuses on Icare, who prefers to go by Courgette, who is placed in a care home after accidentally killing his alcoholic, abusive mum by pushing her down the stairs. Whilst in the care home, he becomes friends with the other kids there, mainly Simon, who is initially an antagonistic presence in the care home, and Camille, a girl he falls in love with after she is brought to the home. Over the course of the film, we see Courgette open up more, his relationship with Camille develop and police office Raymond (who initially processed Courgette’s case) form a paternal relationship with Courgette. What works best about the film are the relationships between the characters. All of them feel believable and fit the overall tone of the film. There’s this air of melancholy throughout the film regarding the nature of the children and the circumstances that led to them ending up in the home, all of them being believable. There isn’t any real sugarcoating of the darkness behind everything and we see the damage that has been done to the children on both a psychological and, in some cases, physical level. We also see the power that the friendship between the children in the home has in lessening the pain that they feel, the positive environment that is created allowing people to come out of their shells and come to terms with the damage done to them. There’s also a strong element of melancholy at the end of the film regarding the relationship between Courgette and Simon, which I won’t spoil here. There has been a history of media looking at children in care homes (most prominently Short Term 12, although that focused more on the carers, and the Tracy Beaker franchise in the UK), there haven’t been many which have taken as poignant a look as the one here. The film is also really funny, it recognises that these characters are kids going into puberty and has fun with these elements, which further creates an air of believability for the kids and there is a sweetness to the relationships Courgette has between Camille and Raymond that helps make the ending of the film so powerful.
Now the version of the film shown at Flatpack was the English dub of the film. Personally, I would have preferred to see it in French, especially due to issues with the lip syncing, but this is one of the better dubs for an animated film I’ve seen. Erick Abbate is excellent as Courgette, showing the difficulty he has in coming to terms with what has happened to him, his growing warming up to everyone and his relationship with Camille. Speaking of which, Ness Krell is equally strong as Camille, very subtle changes in her vocal inflections showing the changes that her character is going through and the psychological damage she’s experienced. As Simon, Romy Beckman does a great job at showing how the tough exterior for Simon is a shell, hiding a very emotionally fragile person, scared of people leaving him, with his friendship with Courgette being incredibly touching. As Raymond, Nick Offerman gives a very warm performance, letting you understand how he develops a paternal relationship with Courgette. Good work is also done by Olivia Bucknor, Barry Mitchell, Finn Robbins and Clara Young as the other kids in the home along with Ellen Page and Will Forte in smaller roles as workers in the home (Forte as their teacher, Page as their caretaker), with some weight in the film coming from their relationship, and we get a brilliantly hateful character with Amy Sedaris’ performance as Camille’s emotionally abusive aunt, who only wants custody of Camille for the payment she’ll receive from the government.
The animation quality of this film needs to be praised as well. The stop motion work really fits with the tone of the film, having a great handmade charm which gives the impression of the kids themselves telling the story. The designs of the characters are excellent, the eyes being highlighted throughout the film, which allows for a great deal of emotion to be wrought from the characters using a limited number of movements. The background design is excellent as well, as well as the designs for the props, which adds to the homemade charm of the film. The music as well does a good job of matching the tone of the film, again helping with the melancholic style.
Overall, My Life as a Courgette is a powerful film. The stop motion style works wonders with the story of these children, aided by a brilliant script by Celine Sciamma (the writer/director of Girlhood) and strong voice acting, even though I would have preferred the French version of the film. This is a film that I am comfortable recommending everyone to see, there are very few films with the thematic weight of this film that would be accessible to most audiences, and it is a very rewarding experience.
My Rating: 5/5