Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Prime Time: My Life As A Courgette (2016)

Let me start this review with a couple of clarifying statements. One, I am reviewing the version of the movie that I saw with an English-speaking cast. Two, I am reviewing this film by not really reviewing it. I do intend to review it, but I think I will get sidetracked very soon.

My Life As A Courgette is a film that has been on my radar for the past couple of years. I'd heard it was good. I had no idea it would run so closely to some of my own experiences.

It sometimes amazes me that we survive our teenage years. All those changes happening, every emotion being the best and the worst ever (it's a few years of extremes that those who suffer from manic depression/bipolar disorder end up dealing with for their entire lives), and being surrounded by adults who act as if they never went through the same thing. Teenage years are the times when you should make mistakes, be angry and rebellious, and be able to rely on your elders to keep/get you back on the right path.

Sadly, that doesn't always happen. This film is about a young boy (a pre-teen but that's neither here nor there, as we all know what lies ahead for him) who is placed in a foster home after the loss of his alcoholic mother. He has to make friends, get used to the new environment that will be his home, and then, to make things worse, he falls for a young girl who is also brought to the home.

My mother is still alive, but she helped to make my life a living hell for my teen years, all thanks to the alcohol problem that she was never able to overcome. Oh, it was okay when I was hungry and knew that I could take some money from her purse because she couldn't have possibly managed to keep track of her spending the last time she went to the shops to buy the essentials (cider and cigarettes). Or I could stay out a bit later, or have days off school, because the person supposed to look after me had no sense of the time, or even what day it was.  It wasn't okay when I was not allowed to sleep because I was the only company she had, the ear to bend, the person to take out her anger on. It wasn't okay when I went through the usual rebellious teenage phase and was made to feel like a devil for it. Oh, I'm only mildly exaggerating there. I was kicked and punched while on my gran's sofa, while my gran was off to make us a cuppa, and told I WAS a devil. It wasn't okay when I had a glass bottle smashed over my head. And it wasn't okay when I was eventually put in full-time care, at the age of 15.

And that's where this path converges back with the relevance of this movie. Going into care as a kid, no matter what the reason for it is, feels just like going in to some kind of prison. You have no idea what the other residents there have done. You take a while to make your space into YOUR space. And the social stigma makes you feel like you're to blame, somehow. My Life As A Courgette gets that feeling spot on. It's all done in a way that makes it appropriate to the target audience (I will always feel grateful that I didn't go through some of the horrors that I heard about from other kids in the social care system) but the emotional journey of the main character is one that will be immediately recognisable to anyone who has been in that position.

Based on the novel by Gilles Paris, the script by CĂ©line Sciamma, as well as a number of other contributors, balances the fear and uncertainty of the main character with the positivity of those who all have his best interests at heart. Director Claude Barras, edging into feature territory (this runs at JUST over an hour) after a number of shorts, does an excellent job. The animation style suits the subject matter, and the way in which the children view the world and strive to keep their own safe spaces within it, and I cannot think of any major criticisms. Of course, that is tied in with my lack of objectivity, given the subject matter, but I hope others can empathise with many of the moments depicted onscreen, even if they've not been in the same exact situations.

Cast-wise, Erick Abbate and Ness Krell are Courgette and Camille, the girl he takes a shine to, respectively, and you have a lovely supporting turn from Nick Offerman, playing the police officer who takes Courgette to the home and maintains contact with him. Everyone else does work that manages to maintain the same high standard, from Romy Beckman as the kid who tries to act like the top dog in the home, to Will Forte and Ellen Page as a couple of the adult staff members.

This is very good indeed. In fact, if you have been through ANY traumatic time as a child, or even as an adult, then I would say it's essential viewing. And pass it on to anyone else, young or old, you think may benefit from seeing it.


You can buy the movie here.
Americans can buy it here.

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