My Life as a Zucchini (2017; Dir.: 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 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, and is frequently visited by a kindly policeman – and the movie possesses a naturalistic tone, style, sound and pace quite unlike anything else in the current world of animated film. But 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.