My Life as a Zucchini (org fr. Ma vie de Courgette) is a French-Swiss animated feature by Swiss filmmaker Claude Barras. With brilliant animation and each of the characters given their time in the sun, this is a simple story about children who have been cast out by their families, people they love, circumstances or the world in general.
Icare, the protagonist boy, is called Courgette by his mum. The film begins with him being yelled at when he causes a ruckus upstairs in his attic room. His mother walks up the ladder that leads to his room, and fearing what’s coming, he shuts the floor-door on her head and thud, she falls to her death. Courgette obviously quite traumatically finds himself at a police station, where a kind and considerate cop named Raymond, tries to help him make sense of what’s happened. He tells him that he will be sent to a place where other children like him live and Courgette still wonders if he can go home, back to his mother.
Icare lands at this orphanage for kids who have been abandoned, cast out or left orphans. The director of the place, Mrs. Papineau, introduces the boy to other inhabitants and hesitantly Courgette begins to take to his surroundings. The first test is to face the bully of the place: Simon, a boy who is brought to the orphanage as a product of parents being constantly drugged up, unable to take care of him. Simon and Courgette start off rather testy, but soon find that they have more in common than they think. Things begin to settle as Courgette meets other kids -Simon narrating stories of each – left scarred by situations that children have little to do with or control over. Raymond the cop, now attached to the boy, comes visiting and confesses that he does so out of fondness for the boy and no obligation.
The narrative is thoughtfully crafted, with little details to add to the charm of the film. All the kids at the orphanage have personal stories to tell and while not idyllic, there is a sense of joy that reverberates.
Then comes Camille, a young girl who was witness to her mother’s murder, followed by her father’s suicide. She doesn’t accept Simon’s chieftain status and uses mockery as her means to show who’s boss. Courgette is instantly smitten by her and when the children go away for a weekend ski-trip, the two bond and share their dreams and begin to build a friendship with white around them.
When they return to the real world, Camille is confronted with the possibility of being taken away by her evil aunt, who wishes to take full advantage of the government support that comes with taking care of her niece. The children, led by Simon, plot to help Camille escape and she manages to sneak out in a bag, in the back of Raymond’s car when he comes to visit Courgette. The evil aunt hunts down her niece and drags her away from the safety of Raymond’s home and Courgette’s friendship.
The story is beautifully told and speaks to the scars we force children to bear, for the uncontrolled trauma we inflict on them. It also speaks to how children can come together, looking out for one another. It’s like at that age they feel more a sense of shared humanity than we ever do as a species.
This film is a lesson in camaraderie and a beautiful story of friendship, taught by a group of young outcasts. I couldn’t help but admire.