Alcoholism. Grief. Loss. Not the first subjects you think of when you’re watching an animated children’s film. But Claude Barras’ My Life as a Zucchini incorporates all three with an enormous amount of tenderness.
When a 9-year-old boy nicknamed Courgette — French for zucchini — arrives at an orphanage, his hair is as blue as his soul and saturated with droplets of that color’s sadness. Unlike most fictional orphanages, this one is a sunny place where compassionate teachers look after a small group of parentless misfits. There’s Béatrice, who breaks her own heart each time a car pulls up and it isn’t her mom. And Simon, a bully with fire-engine-red hair, who softens when his best friend gets adopted. As it lingers on the orphans’ emotional reactions, the film becomes increasingly poignant.
When a boy on skis takes a fall in the snow, his mother tends to him. These abandoned children aren’t just watching a casual moment of caring; they’re assessing the mechanics of parental love from afar, longing for such an embrace. It’s some essential thing they may never have again. There are lighter moments, too, but even these are meaningful and resonant. When two bright-chested sparrows build a nest to hatch their chicks in, they symbolize the hope of a happy family that’s yet to be.
My Life as a Zucchini
Opens Friday at the Opera Plaza Cinema.