There’s always this tension in films when they get young kinds to talk about sex. Is their innocent misunderstanding going to come across as cute and funny, or is it going to be the creepiest fucking thing in the entire world? I don’t think there’s any real guarantee for success, it’s playing with fire and the chance of getting burned seems nothing more than random.
The kids talk about sex a lot in My Life as a Courgette, thankfully it works. Otherwise, it’s such a frequent occurrence that my skeleton would probably have fled my body halfway through the running time to escape the awkwardness. The amount it comes up is probably enough for a tale about a preteen horndog and the manic pixie dream girl he got a crush on.
Okay, that’s reductive and unfair. Courgette (given name Icare) is taken from his alcoholic and abusive mother’s home and placed in an orphanage. It’s inhabited by a number of colourful characters, the assertive blowhard Simon, Neil from Paranorman Jujube, among others. Shortly after he arrives so too does Camille, together their relationship grows as they help each other overcome the circumstances of their loss and become proper people again.
It’s a light film, gentle and composed in a way that leads it to fly through its running time. At 66 minutes it’s probably the shortest theatrically released film this year. The screening I attended programmed in some of the early Aardman Lip Synch shorts to make time. Don’t mind it though, 66 minutes is the right length for this thing, the quiet confidence it expresses, its insistence in finding the meaning in the small tender moments in these lives is magical, all that would be gone in a longer piece.
Like, only in what might be just about its weakest sequence towards the end does it take a turn for the actually dramatic. Like, proper Tracy Beaker, soap-opera type, melodrama, the arrival of an abusive party on the scene. To its credit it never gets exploitative here it just pushes all the beautiful unspoken subtext up to the surface. It’s probably good that this happens, much as I get all pretentious sometimes like, ‘This stuff don’t need to be said.’ It’s equally true that it needs to be heard. Because it is proper touching and emotional and the film gets there. It hits all its beats, I’m just salty.
There’s this thing you get in stories like these, told for children, looking through the lens of their reality. They’re almost always from the perspective of the majority, often a white boy. This can get proper wonky sometimes, check out how Spud (the 2005 debut novel by South African author John van de Ruit) deals (not great) with the topic of his country’s 1990s racism, or just any of its women characters.
Here, even though the main drive comes from Courgette’s desire for Camille, she especially is allowed a strong sense of internality. None of the other characters are made to exist as props for our lead to reflect off of: Béatrice a girl whose mother was deported is allowed to live and express within that reality. Camille is shown to have this real positive relationship with Alice, another resident, whose tragedy so clear and present, yet never allowed to consume and define the character. These small stories expressing themselves so completely and tactfully that it’s made to look so easy.
It ain’t easy though, which, like, I forget all the time. Claude Barras has created a gentle masterwork here. While the story’s contemporary’s lean into the squalor and filth of the situation, he’s interested in sourcing the things that make life beautiful, the things that make it worth living. The companionship and support and community that comes as an extension of the best of our natures. Making it outta clay and plasticine in our own grown up version of how we saw childhood life. Simple way in which he imbues these objects with meaning more than they are.
This with Sophie Hunger’s amazing score. Like, there were cuts from this one which made my jaw drop. There’s something here evocative of that These Days scene from The Royal Tenenbaums and whatever Hunger is doing on the soundtrack just blows it up all perfect. It’s so beautiful there were tears all up on my face.
I’m not gonna pick up any illusions here. I’m sure this is in no way representative of reality. I’m sure life comes with all sorts of complications that would be better explored in a dirtier work. But it becoming so important for us to start creating the visions of reality that we aim to bring into the world. This one has a stern housemistress but at the end even she seems to be down with the kids. There is the possibility of a better world we just need to transfer it from clay to reality.
It’s okay for your message movie to be about happiness and kindness and joy. Mean you just get a movie which is happy, kind and joyful. My kind of film.
My Life as a Courgette is currently screening in UK cinemas.