TIFF Review: 'My Life as a Courgette'

My Life as a Courgette (Ma vie de courgette)
Dir. Claude Barras, Writ. Céline Sciamma
Starring: Gaspard Schlatter, Sixtine Mura
Programme: TIFF Kids (North American Premiere)
Courtesy of TIFF

Icare’s mom calls him “Courgette.” How the French word for zucchini offers a term of endearment for a young child eludes this reviewer, but it says a lot about the protagonist’s mother that she nicknames her son after a gourd. Icare’s mother, a violent alcoholic, gets ironically squashed when the little gourd reacts to one of her drunken outbursts. The young boy, now orphaned, insists on using the name Courgette as he enters a foster home and explores a new life in unfamiliar territory. This quirky Claymation comedy, which also happens to be Switzerland’s official submission in this year’s race for Best Foreign Language Film and is an unconventional choice at that, is an endearing and offbeat coming of age story.

While My Life as a Courgette appears in the TIFF Kids sidebar of this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, audiences shouldn’t make the mistake of dismissing it as a kids’ movie. This wonderful film about childhood boasts a surprising and insightful screenplay from Céline Sciamma (the talent behind Girlhood) that tackles the complexity of growing up with a fearless sense of humour. Adults are bound to enjoy My Life as a Courgette as much as young viewers do, if not more.

As the blue-haired androgynous Courgette enters a foster home with the help of an amiable police officer named Ramon, he encounters a gaggle of lost children. The kids, like Courgette, all come from backgrounds of various heartache and tragedy. They grapple with anxieties of self-worth and abandonment, and spend their days worrying that the rest of the world, like their parents, won’t show them the care they need or deserve. The resident bully Simon, for example, tells of losing both his parents to drug overdoses. His erratic behaviour drives kids like Courgette away, but Sciamma’s intelligent script draws out the ways in which children (or anyone, really) internalises his or her insecurities and uses them to lash out at the world.

Sweet relief comes when a doe-eyed girl named Camille joins the home after losing both her parents in a murder suicide. One doesn’t expect kids to talk about these things and My Life as a Courgette finds unexpected poignancy in the kids’ ability to discuss these mature topics not as adults, but as children. They get it—mostly—and the film balances their innocence and inquisitiveness, thus avoiding the wise-beyond-their-eyes cliché that can be fatal. It’s refreshing to see kids who resemble real kids even if they have blue hair and misshaped lumpy bodies.

The film is consistently funny and unexpectedly bold as the kids learn about mature subject matter in the way that kids do: by discussing it in the schoolyard. Enter talk of romance and exploding willies and the kids humorously realise the bond developing within the yard. Fret not though, My Life as a Courgette doesn’t end with a giant orgy à la Sausage Party. Itas dick jokes are far better and far more sensitive to earmuffs.

My Life as a Courgette screens:
-Saturday, Sept. 10 at 4:45 PM at Cineplex Scotiabank
-Sunday, Sept. 18 at 12:30 PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox

TIFF runs Sept. 8-18. Please visit tiff.net for more info.