It’s never easy to make a good family’s animation. For movies aim at adults, the filmmakers can easily get themselves loose, go crazy and the audience can still get it. But for kids, these movies might be one of the first movies they’ve ever seen and that’s a huge responsibility. They have to aware of children’s mindset all the time so that they both maintain kid’s interest throughout its screening time and make them invested to the story. That’s a reason why usually a good family movie or show tends to be either inspirational, educational, or packs an emotional punch for viewers of all ages. My Life as a Courgette falls neatly under the latter category. The film is adapted from a French children novel and the screenplay was written by the talented Celine Sciamma (she directed handful of movies and all of them focus on teenage girls and their transitions to adulthood, in other words, my kind of films). Though not as dark as the book, it’s a story from a kid’s point of view that have a very adult concept and tough subject matter.
The film recounts a few months in the life of Courgette, a nine-year-old boy, who accidently kills his alcoholic mom, then finds himself in an orphanage. His real name is Icare, but he insists of calling himself Courgette since it’s one of the very few things that he has left from his mother. Indeed, when he steps into the orphanage, the only things he keeps in his suitcase are an empty beer can from his mother, and a kite he made by himself. He doesn’t remember much about his father either, since the father left the family long time ago to chase “chicks”. There in the orphanage, he, still feels responsible for the death of his mother, encounters other kids who – like him – had experienced rough childhoods. They include the self-appointed leader (and a bit of a bully) Simon, and later Camille arriving by court order, who witnessed her parent’s murder-suicide. Rosy, whose mother was sent back to Africa. Ahmed, whose father was arrested for robbing a convenience store. Alice, whose father was arrested too. There is also a kind-heart policeman Raymond who later would be Couragette father’s figure as well.
If you feel I give a bit too much of a synopsis here, this is because it’s essential to the theme of the story. The best thing about the film, I have to say, lies in its sensitive writing. Within the first 10 minutes, the film successfully establishes a solid ground of all the mishaps, all the sadness these children have been gone through. Those moments feel so real and hold so much power. Life is not fair in the first place, and those children did nothing to deserve it. They all end up here, without the care of no one really, and all they have are each other. Being said that, those sad, downbeat times are just a facet of life, and learning how to live with it is the main theme of the film. The later part of My Life as a Courgette comes to more light-heart, sincere territory, but by then we’re already swept by the sadness that the whole movie feels more like a bittersweet experience.
Upon making this feature, the director Claude Barras insisted that he took extra attention to the eyes of the characters, and it shows in the movie, as the characters have big, expressive eyes. In many of the touching moments, those eyes help conveying a lot of emotion and we really see the sadness behind those eyes. The character designs, with big head, multicolor hairs and very thin body, further make those characters easy to root for, and will definitely catch the interest of the children. It helps of course that the kids were well-written and speak like a normal 9-year-old would speak. The stop-motion for the most part is serviceable; they serve the story well but nothing to stand out and truthfully judging from technical aspect there is nothing to recommend either. Then again this film is a children movie so I guess it serves its purposes.
If there is one thing that I could criticize the film for, that is its conflicts resolve way too quickly. There are two main conflicts of the film. The first conflict comes from Simon bullying Courgette, both because of his name and because he’s new. The second comes from the group’s attempt to win back Camille from her aunt who intends to use the girl for government-aided. I really think more time spending to raise the stakes would benefit the film better, especially with its relatively short running time (66 minutes to be exact). Because of its brief running time, only Courragette and two more characters (Simon, Camille) have a chance to develop, and boy! They certainly grow a lot during their brief time staying together in the orphanage.
In the end, My Life as a Couragette is the kind of film that the kids can enjoy but there’s a level for adults to appreciate as well. The bittersweet moments are all well-earned, and this is a feat to tell a sad, dark story without being too cynical or depressing. The film actually suggests the opposite, that unfortunate things happen everywhere, but learning to bounce back and stand up from those mishaps is something worth treasuring for.
Next post I will review my personal favorite anime feature film that came out last year in 2015, and it is NOT the one(s) you think it is. Stay tune!