One of the more delicate surprises I’ve seen in animated films — and particularly animated films from France — is Ma Vie de Courgette, a little gem of an animated feature that says more about human acceptance than other big studio animated features. Icare is a little French boy living with his alcoholic mother in squalor. As he plays with the cans of beer she leaves behind, they wind up making a mess. When she comes after him in a fury, something pretty horrific happens, and it lands Icare, dejected and withdrawn, in an orphanage by a kindly policeman named Raymond who often visits.

Once at the orphanage Courgette meets the ginger-haired alpha-boy who leads a pack of seven orphans, Simon. Simon taunts him mercilessly and calls him “potato”. [Although, to be fair, little Courgette does resemble a large potato-head with eyes filled with wonder,] Courgette also meets the other six. As it turns out, all of them — Courgette included are victims of horrific family abuse or unjust circumstances. As it turns out, Simon is actually rather insecure and on the constant defensive; it is this position that allows him to distance himself from any real contact and assert his own persona. The arrival of another girl signifies a subtle change in the story’s dynamics, but one that cements the nascent friendships between the kids in the orphanage.

This is a very short movie rooted in minimalism, and that in a way may be somewhat of a detriment because once one finds out where the children come from, the story seems to drop the topic entirely and veer into a totally different direction, which comes across as either incomplete or schizophrenic, two stories mashed into one. On the other hand, this may never have been its intent; viewing it another way, I felt as though the true basis of this little movie was to focus more on the way these kids began to open to each other and to Courgette as well. Perhaps it’s become all-too common to see the darker side of children’s traumas in stories — somehow the Stephen King novel It comes to mind, with its seven children, each from a broken home, having to face their symbolic demons. I was just floored to see how a film with little murmurs and earthquakes of emotion had grown on me, affecting me at a level that I’d rarely experienced before, and how once the inevitable ending came, I was awash in tears of sadness and joy. I would say then that on that basis, this lovely picture, thematically, resonates, and I doubt there will be anyone who isn’t moved by how deep its roots go and how wonderful its gifts are.

Ma Vie de Courgette is playing at the Landmark Sunshine on 2nd Avenue in NYC.

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