A perfectly crafted, poignant charmer.
My Life as a Zucchini is one of the most wonderful films of the year, which has resulted in its much deserved Oscar nomination this year for Best Animated Film. Zucchini is a stop motion animated feature from France and Switzerland about a nine year-old boy, Courgette (which is French for zucchini), who loses his mother and father and is taken to a foster home where a handful of other orphans reside. The brisk 70 minute film follows Courgette as he befriends the kindhearted policeman who takes him to the foster home, and then learns to love and trust the other foster children in similarly unfortunate situations. The animation is colorful and simple, yet each shot is overflowing with heart. My Life as a Zucchini is not meant for very young audiences — the subject matter may be beyond a young child’s understanding and there are some bits of nudity and substance abuse. And yet, I recommend audiences of nearly all ages see My Life as a Zucchini because it beautifully tackles how all people, including children and adults, can rise above their surface-level differences to love each other, even in the face of tragedies that affect their lives in unexpected ways.
Zucchini is the debut feature from director Claude Barras, working off a screenplay by Céline Sciamma (Tomboy). The film’s style and character designs are remarkably unique, including the pronounced rings around each character’s wide, expressive eyes and the powerfully emotional opening sequence, which sets the style and tone for the film — relying heavily on subtle visuals rather than explanatory dialogue. The eye rings are especially important details, since they give the children a look of being emotionally experienced (if not wise) in a way that would likely accompany anyone who goes through the familial tragedies that they’ve gone through. The unusually scenic backdrops have a kindergarten age group aesthetic, full of color and embracing the crudeness of adolescent artistry. Courgette is voiced by Gaspard Schlatter, a newcomer, and his natural manner of speaking is a main ingredient for how his character’s youthful innocence resonates with the audience.
I recommend seeing Zucchini in its native French language. The english version features amazing voice talent, including Nick Offerman, Ellen Page, Amy Sedaris, and many others, yet like most foreign films, seeing it with its original language soundtrack supplies the best experience. And what an experience you’ll have! Zucchini is sorrowful, funny, and sincere. Like it’s characters, the film is a resounding statement on human fragility but also human resilience. It depicts our innate struggle to compartmentalize our emotions, whether we try to place them within our actions toward others, in our art, or even transfer them into inanimate objects. Here, a kite and an empty beer can are important emotional relics. Inanimate objects aside, Zucchini will restore your faith in the goodwill of friends and strangers (assuming you’ve lost some in recent times), and will push you to appreciate those closest to you. And did I mention it’s only 70 minutes? Yes, that helps too. I love when filmmakers know exactly how much time they need to tell an effective story!
My Life as a Zucchini comes out in select Bay Area theaters Friday, March 3rd.