The last of the Oscar-nominated Best Animated Films titles to be released in the United States is the French work My Life as a Zucchini, from first-time feature director Claude Barras, working from the beloved novel by Gilles Paris (adapted by the esteemed filmmaker and Girlhood director Céline Sciamma). In what appears to be stop-motion animation, the story centers on a young boy who likes to be called Zucchini and is something of an artist, drawing both those around him and a version of a world he’d like to see. His mother is killed accidentally, and in the ensuing investigation, a police officer named Raymond takes a liking to the boy and decides to personally deliver him to the foster home he’ll be staying at with a handful of colorful kids his age.
While Zucchini attempts to make friends and fit in, he also enjoys time alone with thoughts of his often-drunken mother whom he feared as much as he lived. All of the children at the home have similarly sad—sometimes tragic—stories, which is one of the reasons this otherwise family-friendly work might be a little mature of younger viewers. The kids talk about sex (or at least what they think sex is), and it’s hilarious, but a good deal of My Life as a Zucchini borders on heartbreaking as each of the children is delivered fresh new blows to their fragile, young hearts. Even when Zucchini forms a sweet crush on a new girl that comes to the home, there are forces in her life that threaten to take her away.
Having debuted in Director’s Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival last year, Zucchini dares to take on some fairly heavy subjects, including substance abuse, prostitution, and child abuse, but it does so with delicacy and compassion, showing the survival skills and resiliency of these expressive and intricately crafted characters. It’s an exceptionally heartfelt offering that absolutely illustrates why it—and not something like Finding Dory—earned its Oscar nomination. Seek this one out.
The film opens tomorrow, March 10, at the Music Box Theatre. It is presented both in the original French language with English subtitles, or in a dubbed English version. Check out the Music Box’s website for further details.