My Life as a Zucchini (2017; Claude Barras)
By Daniel Barnes
*Opens Friday, March 3, at the Landmark Opera Plaza in San Francisco and the Landmark Shattuck in Berkeley.
Spoiler alert: this film is not about a little boy who transforms into a zucchini. That goofball title and the Pop Art-meets-Cubist character designs do nothing to prepare you for this relatively realistic and fairly dark portrait of abused and abandoned children.
Director and co-writer Barras adapts a 2002 novel from French writer Gilles Paris into a stop-motion animated coming-of-age dramedy. It’s an interesting choice of format for the adaptation, given the dark subject matter. A boy accidentally kills his alcoholic mother and gets sent to a rural orphanage, where he feuds and bonds with his damaged housemates, while a kindly policeman frequently visits.
The movie possesses a naturalistic tone, style, sound and pace quite unlike anything else in the current world of animated film. However, that sore thumb status doesn’t always work in the film’s favor. As much as My Life as a Zucchini is French-in-a-good-way (intelligent, searching, free from repression), it’s also pretty French-in-a-bad-way (formless, meandering, pitiless yet sentimental). Animation aficionados need to ingest this thing post haste; all others, tread lightly.