Friday, March 10, 2017

My Life as a Zucchini

Now that I’ve finally got the review written, the showtimes at Kendall Square have been cut down to matinees, but, to compensate, they’re subtitled as opposed to dubbed (when I went Monday, it was English before sunset, French after). I still recommend the movie quite a bit, though; though my horse in the Oscar category was Kubo and the Two Strings at the time, this one likely edges it out now that I’ve seen all of them.

Sticking around through the credits, by the way, is highly recommended; the filmmakers animate the audio of their first meeting with the kid who wound up voicing Courgette and it is adorable, but in a way that complements the rest of the film, as he talks about how his parents’ divorce would probably be something he pulls from before talking about how Zucchini is gross and maybe the kid could have a different name.

Probably won’t get this one for a niece come birthdays/Christmas - the one who will be eleven can probably handle it, but it is often a downer, even if it is ultimately hopeful. It’s very much a “know your kid” movie, but an excellent one if your kid is up for it.

”Le génie de la boîte de raviolis” (“The Genie in a Tin of Ravioli”)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 6 March 2017 in Landmark Kendall Square #4 (pre-film short, DCP)

Sent to theaters as part of a package with his rather short feature My Life as a Zucchini to help pad out the runtime, Claude Barras’s “The Genie in a Tin of Ravioli” is a fairly simple film, with the very mildest conflict propelling its story and simple dialog the order of the day to go with its deceptively simple animation. The credits mark it as adapted from a bande dessinée, which makes me wonder if that phrase encompasses children’s books as well as the comics I most often see it used for.

It’s a sweet little thing, though, quickly introducing viewers to Armand, who works daily in a ravioli factory and then eats the stuff for dinner when he gets home, only to have a grand, triangular genie pop out when he opens one night’s can. The genie offers to grant two wishes, and there’s an interesting balance to it: Armand’s wishes are initially small, with the genie having to coax him into asking for more than a flower in a pot. Initially, it’s easy to walk away from the short thinking it’s entirely about his modesty and kindness, and that’s important, but look a little deeper, and maybe Armand needs to be reminded that, even if he is a poor factory worker and an immigrant, he deserves natural beauty and good food as much as anyone.

Barras is artful in how he gets this across using stop-motion animation; the design is simple-looking, with bold colors and relatively little fiddly detail. But look how he uses it - the factory is fanciful enough that Armand’s apartment and the neighborhood around it seems drab in comparison, but the meadow he’s transported to is roomy, with great spaces between the flowers that let him appreciate them more even as they also give characters room to move in a way that a more conventional take, with overwhelming flora in every square inch. The gait and movement of every character is also delightfully individual, the result of tremendously fastidious stop-motion work whose sheer effort can easily be overlooked.

Ma vie de Courgette (My Life as a Zucchini)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 6 March 2017 in Landmark Kendall Square #4 (first-run, DCP)

The charm in this film is appropriately low-key, as there's a clear, earnest darkness to it even before the event that has the title character shipped off to a group home. Fortunately, this doesn't make for a joyless movie; it may have moments of horror and bits of sadness that can't be escaped, but it's as much a film about resilient children rather than broken ones. And it’s a pretty terrific one.

As it opens, 9-year-old Icare - whom his perpetually-drunk mother calls “Courgette”, (“Zucchini” in English) - is making the best of his situation, playing in his attic by flying a kite with a superhero drawn on it out the window and stacking the alarming number of empty beer cans strewn about the apartment into a tower. It draws the ire of Courgette’s mother, and after she falls climbing to the attic, a friendly policeman (voiced by Michel Vuillermoz in French/Nick Offerman in English) brings Courgette (voices of Gaspard Schlatter/Erick Abbate) to a group home in a different neighborhood. Most of the kids there are nervous or timid, but Simon (voices of Paulin Jaccoud/Romy Beckman) is kind of a bullying brat. Courgette will not be the new kid for long - soon Camille (voices of Sixtine Murat/Ness Krell) is in the girls’ bedroom, with a similar story but also a mean Aunt Ida (voices of Brigitte Rosset/Amy Sedaris) whom Camille is afraid to be alone with.

This relatively short feature is playing with one of director Claude Barras’s short films in its American release, and one thing I immediately noted carrying over is how carefully he creates environments. The opening of this movie will not strike a viewer as looking realistic, but there’s something about the barren right angles of the apartment with walls covered by crayon drawings that doesn’t feel like a stop-motion set, especially as Barras pushes his camera in close. It’s the same with the police station, where Barrass zooms into a screen that looks like the sort of MS-DOS application that likely lingers in underfunded government offices, but doesn’t show a keyboard that might look adorably reduced or like an excessively precise miniature reproduction. As Raymond drives Courgette to his new home, though, the feel changes: Simple shapes now seem to reflect a child’s point of view, as do cars making just slightly impossible turns as if guided by someone’s hand and the lack of precisely squared borders. There’s space where there wasn’t before, and even if Mme. Papineau’s home isn’t luxuriously large, there’s room to move around. From moment to moment, the animation style allows this movie to be a fantasy, a memory, and the way a kid might tell his own story.

Full review on EFC.

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