Childhood is just plain painful sometimes, especially if your name is Courgette, or Zucchini, if you prefer the English translation. My Life as a Zucchini is a French-Swiss stop animation film that explores the worst of childhood traumas with emotional patience and painstaking beauty. Based on the book by Gilles Paris, this film magically lands its point with measured sentiment and innocent truth. A favorite at Cannes, Courgette has garnered much praise throughout the festival circuit and is now honored with an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature.

My Life as a Zucchini is director Claude Barras’ first venture into the feature length world of stop animation. Barras produced and directed several shorts prior to this undertaking including Land of the Heads (2009) and Chambre 69 (2012). The leap from shorts that time in at 3 minutes and 6 minutes (respectively) must have been challenging, but Barras handles it well. While elements of the animation may seem remedial, the substance here is in the style, simplicity, and the storyline. Featuring a beautiful primary palette, Barras gives life to his characters mostly via their wide and expressive eyes. As eyes are said to be the windows to the soul, the souls of these characters are deeply portrayed and sympathetic.

Courgette is a nine-year-old boy whose existence is defined by his alcoholic mother. Mother plants herself in front of the television every day, close enough to launch empty beer cans at the screen on a whim. On one such day, Courgette finds himself accidentally orphaned. With no one to care for him, a local policeman shows up to deliver Courgette to his new home, an orphanage. It is there that Courgette finds himself surrounded by children quite like him. As he adjusts to his new life and the resident bully, his misery curiously finds good company. Each of the children he has been placed with has a tragic and disturbing backstory ranging from drug-addicted parents to a deported mother.

As Courgette begins to feel at home with his new family, he finds kinship and puppy love. Eventually his world turns brighter when the officer who delivered him from his mother’s home takes an interest in adopting him.

The characters here share a common if unfortunate reality. The adults that should have been protecting them from the horrors of the world have robbed them all of their innocence. And yet, it is precisely the childhood innocence that brings such heart to the film and makes it well worth the journey.

Screen writer Celine Sciamma (Tomboy 2011, Girlhood 2014) does an excellent job of adapting a beloved novel to the screen. The story is simple, yet rich with well-rounded characters, a splash of humor and a lump of pain.

Although it is unlikely for My Life as a Zucchini to walk away with the coveted Oscar statue, it is highly probable that this film with become a treasured classic. Its main appeal is timeless. Ultimately this film speaks to the both the beauty and the pain of childhood, and the human truth that one always seeks the love of a mother, even an imperfect one.

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