Following his alcoholic mother's accidental death, nine-year-old Courgette (Erick Abbate) is taken by kindly cop Raymond (Nick Offerman) to a children's home, where he teams with bully Simon (Romy Beckman) to foil a grasping aunt's plan to take Camille (Ness Krell) away.
Director Céline Sciamma has already demonstrated keen insights into what it means to be young and French in Water Lilies (2007), Tomboy (2011) and Girlhood (2014), as well as in her screenplay for André Téchiné's Being 17 (2016). But as screenwriter she proves even sharper in this animated adaptation of Gilles Paris’ 2002 novel, Autobiographie d'une Courgette, which marks Swiss director Claude Barras’ transition from acclaimed shorts like The Genie In A Ravioli Can (2006).
The only downside to this charming and thought-provoking gem is that it lasts a mere 66 minutes.
Refusing to sentimentalise the plight of the seven youngsters residing at Les Fontaines, Barras and Sciamma ensure that each has an unflinchingly authentic backstory that makes their bond all the more plausible and poignant. Camille (Krell) witnessed the argument that left both parents dead, while Alice (Clara Young) was abused, Beatrice’s (Olivia Buckner) mother was deported, Simon’s (Romy Beckman) folks did drugs, Georgie’s (Finn Robbins) mother has OCD and Ahmed's (Barry Mitchell) father was jailed for shoplifting. Courgette’s (Abbate) sole possessions are a beer-can souvenir of his mother and a self-drawn kite that unknowingly depicts his father’s womanising.
Such gritty reality may not seem suited to animation (Barras calls it “Ken Loach for kids”). But, with their big eyes and subtle stop-motion movements, the Plasticine characters are hugely expressive, while the action is dotted with joyous set-pieces like a trip to a ski resort and touching details like the weather-themed mood indicator and hilarious speculations on what grown-ups do in bed. The Oscar nomination, therefore, was thoroughly deserved.
The only downside to this charming and disarmingly thought-provoking gem is that it lasts a mere 66 minutes. Few would complain if a sequel came along.