My Life as a Zucchini **** / *****
Directed by: Claude Barras.
Written by: Céline Sciamma & Claude Barras & Germano Zullo & Morgan Navarro based on the book by Gilles Paris.
If you happen to be a parent, who puts on the delightful animated film My Life as a Zucchini for your young children, you’ll be alerted fairly soon that this is not just another time waster for the kiddies – but a film that you’ll have to talk to your children about afterwards – that is if you determine they’re old enough to watch it at all. No, this isn’t an animated raunchfest like last year’s Sausage Party – but instead a quiet, intimate film about long and grief, but also about hope, friendship and love. Your (mature) children will get a lot more out of it than most animated fair – just be sure to watch it with them.
The movie opens with a scene of the hero – named Zucchini – alone in his attic, making a pyramid out of his mother’s discarded beer cans. They come crashing down, his angry mother starts ascending the stairs to the attic telling him he’s going to get a beating – at which point he slams the attic room door, sending his mother crashing to the floor before. “She’s gone” is what a sympathetic police officer will tell Zucchini as he takes him to a group home – filled with other kids, who for some reason or another are not being looked after by their family – it’s a home for children who have no one to love them one kid tells Zucchini. Strangely enough, given his possible act of matricide, Zucchini’s backstory is the darkest of the kids at the group home – that belongs to Camille – a girl who arrives even after Zucchini.
Give that last paragraph, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this is a depressing film – which it really isn’t. Yes, there is sadness at various moments in the film – the opening, Camille’s arrival, a scene late in the film where one kid gets angry at being left behind, etc. But all children experience sadness at various times in their lives – hopefully not as sad as these children – but it’s an emotion they can relate to. There is also joy in the film as well – children are resilient – as when they group goes on a ski trip, or has a dance party. The film is largely plotless – the only real plot followed involves Camille’s greedy Aunt – and that probably takes up a total of 15 minutes of the film’s 67 minute runtime. It is basically a film that drifts from one incident to another – and yet it builds in a way that sneaks up on you.
The real highlight though is the animation. This is stop motion work at its finest – the characters are distinctive looking, with large eyes, and weirdly shaped noses. They are cute, but not cloying so, and their faces are remarkably expressive. The group home can be a place of isolation and loneliness at first, but it grows into something more warm and inviting.
The film was one of the five nominated for the Animated Film Oscar last year – although it didn’t really get released until February 2017. It probably never had a chance to take the prize away from Zootopia anyway – a nomination is a win for a small film like this from France. But it is a thoughtful film, and a quietly touching one. No, I’m not about to show it to my five or three year olds – but I’ll likely show it to them at some point. It’s a film they can relate to in way more profound than most animated features try.