MY LIFE AS A ZUCCHINI Review
Director: Claude Barras
Genre: Family, Animation
MY LIFE AS A ZUCCHINI is the second adaptation of French author Gilles Paris’s 2002 novel AUTOBIOGRAPHIE D’UNE COURGETTE. It premiered to rapturous response at the Director’s Fortnight of the Cannes Film Festival and then went on to earn an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Film. It was also Switzerland’s sole entry for the Best Foreign Film category. MY LIFE AS A ZUCCHINI is the feature-length directorial debut of Claude Barras. Barras has directed numerous animated shorts up to this point, each twisting the expectations we have of animated films. His shorts, including LAND OF THE HEADS and IMPOSTOR, have done this by dealing with mature subjects and themes that are not always child-friendly. Although serious, the work of Barras also contains moments of humor and joy. In the same way, MY LIFE AS A ZUCCHINI attempts to strike this balance between drama and comedy. Delivering a totally unique animated treat, Barras delights. This film will make you laugh, cry, and leave the theater amazed by its beauty and profundity.
Our protagonist, Zucchini. Blue hair, don’t care!
The story centers around a 10-year-old boy named Icare who moves into a foster care home with other orphaned children after the shocking death of his mother. Icare informs everyone at the home that he prefers to be called “Zucchini,” his mother’s nickname for him. Armed with just a kite and one of his mother’s beer cans, Zucchini experiences a new life, completely unlike the one he used to know. As the days go by, Zucchini forges new friendships with the orphans who all have fascinatingly different personalities, points of view, and backstories. Zucchini holds secrets of his own, and his psychological profile is interesting to watch develop. I was hanging on his every word and action, trying to understand the effects of the trauma he has endured. The interplay between the kids is incredible to watch and I really enjoyed the politics of the home they live in.
Adding additional intrigue to the storyline is the adults. There are several adult characters that interact with Zucchini and they show us the spectrum of empathy and compassion. The headmistress of the orphanage means well, and kindly ushers Zucchini into the new world he resides in. There is also a police officer that takes special interest in Zucchini’s case and visits him without having to. On the other end of this spectrum is the awful aunt of Camille, another orphan in the house. Camille’s aunt is a villainous figure, looking to profit off of her orphaned niece by collecting welfare checks for herself. She is a potently vile villain, and shows us how the foster care system can be twisted and manipulated for personal gain.
The cutest little gang of snow bunnies
What the story really boils down to is Zucchini’s coming of age. Although this genre has been approached before, I found his journey to be beautifully melancholy. He also falls in love with Camille, and their relationship has the viewer totally invested in its development. Zucchini’s overall journey is a delight to watch, and there is a fully rounded arc from his story’s beginning to end. I also felt that the other children in the story contributed to the plot in interesting and surprising ways that fully realized the environment.
The film’s stop-motion animated style is absolutely gorgeous. Every character model and setting is crafted with intricate detail and special touches. The environments in it are absolutely breathtaking, showing everything from snowy, blanketed hills and autumn leaves to skies spotted with cotton-clouds and spangly stars. The characters are adorable and each of them possess unique visual characteristics. Their darkly-shaded, weary eyes betray an innate sadness within them. The visuals balance between light and darkness, further complementing the film’s bittersweet tone. It is a visual treat from start to finish.
20 minutes into Netflix ‘n chill and bae gives you this look…
Running at a slim 70 minutes, MY LIFE AS A ZUCCHINI flies by and never wears out its welcome. It’s at its most humorous when it deals with the small details of the kids’ everyday lives; going to class, getting in trouble, playing around, and arguing at dinner. It’s most sad when I watch the kids grapple with their feelings of loneliness and their desires to be loved. The darkness and heaviness of this film may seem overwhelming at times, but I think there is also plenty of joy and humor to balance it out. MY LIFE AS A ZUCCHINI is refreshingly substantial animation jam packed with life affirming profundities. You will think long about it after it ends, and you will definitely appreciate your family more.