AMERICAN CINEMA PAPERS
CANNES – 2016 A TOWN CALLED MANIC
MA VIE DE CROISETTE
by Harlan Kennedy FRSA
It’s the best French-speaking model
animation film since A TOWN CALLED PANIC. It caused a happy riot at the
Directors Fortnight. It scooped up rave reviews. And MA VIE DE COURGETTE (MY
LIFE AS A ZUCCHINI), Claude Barras’ tenderly
ridiculous, lovable stop-motion kid story says so much about
Like the 9-year-old hero Icare, nicknamed Courgette (and voiced by the scarcely less memorably-named Gaspard Schlatter), we are all orphans thrown among strangers at this fortnight-long foster home on the Med. Like him we invent rites, rituals and defence strategies to stay sane and unscathed. Like him we start with faint pangs of homesickness and end by finding a new home, or home-from-home, in a faraway place.
That must be one reason, or two reasons,
Growing up, like going to a film festival, is a process dedicated to discovery, open-mindedness, happy bewilderment, elective anarchy, and hard-earned, hard-learned insights.
‘Courgette’ himself has big, startled eyes, blue hair and an orange nose like the carrot on the face of a sensitive, well-bred snowman. He is partly in trauma but carries it well: he caused his mother’s death when she fell from an attic trapdoor. This, like much of the movie, is a tragicomic moment perfectly judged. We feel its absurdist serendipity; we also feel its bereaving pang.
In the orphanage to which he is taken to by a kindly police detective (who becomes at the end his adopting dad) Courgette meets every variety of pre-teen human life. Since the screenplay is by Celine Sciamma, no slouch as a Francophone auteur herself (she wrote and directed GIRLHOOD and WATER LILIES), each of Courgette’s comrades at the institution has a piquant, textured individuality. Simon is a braggart redhead who likes to think he rules the roost, but in a crisis behaves more like a head-lopped chicken. Ahmed loves dinosaurs, or anything, small or large. that looks like one. Camille is the shy girl who will obviously steal Courgette’s heart.
His real name being Icare, it’s obvious our hero will fly too close to the sun – or to the bright unexpected life force that this fostering home proves to be – and nearly crash to earth. Delinquency is one well-known fruit of a broken home or lost parents. The funniest scene here is one of precocious sexual prying that leads to a BASIC INSTINCT instant involving Camille’s visiting aunt. (Sharon Stone crossing her legs at the police station? Remember?) It’s a moment of X-rated carnality amid the U-rated cartoonery. Scarcely less funny are the kids’ what-is-sex discussions in the dormitory at night. The enormity of their curiosity is matched only by the enormity of their ignorance.
Orphans of the dorm! Though their minds and hearts are cleaned out by a group trip to snowy mountains – cue lyrical sequence of playing, tumbling and improvised tobogganing – they’re back to batty-badass basics once they’re back at base.
We recognize every moment, every mishap, every rogue delight and spiritual tremblement de terre of these kids. Because overextended childhood is, of course, the essence of being at a film festival; or this famous one at least.
At Cannes 2016, you could tell we were all overgrown kids during the last days since we crowded, almost to a man and woman, into the farouche brace of ‘naughty’ competition movies the festival saved till the end. “Lights out! Settle down! Now” (spoke our ghostly hosts) “we will show you the carnal madness of Nick Winding Refn’s THE NEON DEMON – lust, sex and cannibalistic supermodelling in Los Angeles – followed by ELLE, the latest saucy romp from the BASIC INSTINCT chap himself, Paul Verhoeven.”
At the very, very end of a film festival, though, as at the very end of MA VIE DE COURGETTE, lust turns to love. We realise we no more want to leave our dear orphanage sur le mer than we wanted, at hesitant moments before the trip, to come to it in the first place. (Packing those damn suitcases to tear ourselves from home again).
It’s just the same in the movie. Shyly self-distancing Camille moves in on Courgette’s heart. And self-fancied bully Simon becomes the story’s saviour in its sayonara moments. MY LIFE AS A COURGETTE? Like we said: MY LIFE ON THE CROISETTE. This celluloid charmer is so close to our Cannes-going lives. At this fabled French festival, we come firmly to understand that human beings, like root vegetables, can be nourished by a transplant, even temporary, to that rich and fertile soil on the other side of the horizon we call home.
COURTESY T.P. MOVIE NEWS.
WITH THANKS TO THE AMERICAN FILM INSTITUTE FOR THEIR CONTINUING INTEREST IN WORLD CINEMA.
©HARLAN KENNEDY. All rights reserved