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A child’s view of loss in ‘My Life as a Zucchini’

First Published      Last Updated Mar 17 2017 09:42 am

Imaginatively rendered and tenderly told, director Claude Barras' stop-motion-animated "My Life as a Zucchini" is a heart-wrenching tale of children who have no families — and must make one of their own.

Icare is a boy with two hobbies: flying his kite, on which he has drawn an image of his absent father as a superhero, and stacking the many beer cans his alcoholic mother leaves all over their small home.

One day, when Icare accidentally wakes Mom from her drunken stupor, she tries to climb into his attic room to punish him — and dies when she falls down the ladder. Icare gives a report to Raymond, a kindly police detective, and tells the cop that he likes to be called Zucchini (in French, "Courgette"), Mom's derisive nickname for him.



Raymond takes Zucchini to an orphanage. The first kid he meets is Simon, who picks on Zucchini — his way of saying hello — and fills us in on the other kids and the reason they're not with their parents. Some parents have died, while others (like Simon's) are in jail.

Zucchini isn't the new kid for long, because soon Camille arrives at the orphanage. Zucchini instantly has a crush on Camille and soon learns that she witnessed her parents' murder-suicide. Camille avoids visits from her aunt, Ida, knowing that her relation only wants custody so she can claim government money. When Raymond comes to take Zucchini on a day visit, Camille stows away in the cop's car, and the three end up having a fun day at the amusement park.

Barras and screenwriter Céline Sciamma (who directed the well-received teen drama "Girlhood" that played the 2015 Sundance Film Festival) adapt Gilles Paris' novel with great sensitivity. Tough issues — like one orphan's recovery from apparent sexual abuse — are not dismissed, but handled with delicacy and honesty. (If you're not ready for uncomfortable conversations with your children after the movie, you might want to steer clear.)

The Broadway Centre Cinemas is showing the movie — an Oscar nominee this year, in the Animated Feature category — both in the original French and in an English-language version featuring the voices of Nick Offerman (as Raymond), Amy Sedaris (as Aunt Ida), and Will Forte and Ellen Page as the orphanage's sympathetic teachers. (The English-language cut also omits some rougher material, like Zucchini's anatomically correct crayon drawings.) Along with the movie, the Broadway is screening Barras' charming 2006 animated short, "The Genie in the Ravioli Tin."

"My Life as a Zucchini" is told through stop-motion animation, which removes the discomfort of seeing real child actors re-create harsh situations, and lets audiences share the emotional journey of these resilient children. Zucchini and his friends are depicted as large-headed figures whose wide eyes convey both the troubles they have seen and their enduring optimism.

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AT A GLANCE

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‘My Life as a Zucchini’

A boy without parents finds a makeshift family in the kids at an orphanage in this tender animated story.

Where » Broadway Centre Cinemas.

When » Opens Friday, March 17.

Rating » PG-13 for thematic elements and suggestive material.

Running time » 70 minutes, plus an 8-minute short, “The Genie in the Ravioli Tin”; dubbed in English or in French with subtitles.


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