The Art of Ambivalence (or: Thoughts While Watching "My Life as a Zucchini")

July 20th

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I. For his 2016 claymation feature, director Claude Barras notably chose to cast children that reminded him of the characters in his script instead of seeking trained actors. He details the process of shooting like documentary filmmaking—he’d recreate a life-sized skeleton of the set, then watch the children interact until they could forget about the cameras and be spontaneous.

II. “Then,” he explains, “scene after scene...they discovered the film as they performed.”

III. Films successful in evoking childhood will give children the freedom to behave thoughtfully and intelligently. When a director incites nostalgia, the film projects time as a series of vignettes.

IV. We open on attic walls adorned with crayon-chickens and superheroes before zooming in on the hands of the artist, finalizing a superhero sketch on the front of his kite. He secures the kite line to a wooden stool and unfurls it out his window. A chicken beams down at him from the back of the sail. The first vignette ends like this: a boy’s content smile at a kite chained to the attic.

V. However, complacency cannot be maintained if it is built by a boy perched atop a wooden stool tied to a kite. If the boy tries to stack his mother’s emptied beer cans into a pyramid, a thunderstorm will tug the kite away, pulling out the chair from under him. The cans will topple down the attic stairs, their clamor replaced by his mother marching up with threats to beat him as he’s never been beat before. The boy will close the attic door on his mother’s head, and we will hear her tumble to the bottom of the stairs. At the end of the second vignette, we will watch the boy hug a kite to his chest after killing his mother.

VI. Understand what it means to be an unwilling Icarus––wrenched to the sky and destroyed for prioritizing exhilaration over a parent’s reprimands. The boy’s real name is Icare, but he prefers Courgette because it’s what his mother called him. He does not have a father to disobey aside from the chicken-loving superhero on the sail of the kite that upheaved him, and his mother is an empty green beer can. This is how he introduces himself to the officer.

VII. Officer Raymond has no reason to love Courgette aside from the trope that his primary characteristic is compassion. He will gently take in Courgette and his heirlooms, and he will place him in an orphanage. He will let the orphanage kids dislike him, and he will let Courgette retain whatever attachment he has to his abusive mother. Officer Raymond waits for both of them to realize they enjoy spending time together over any other alternative before he decides to certify it, and we will find the adoption at the end of the film touching despite its passive overtones.

VIII. The orphanage breeds love as a balance between common knowledge and privacy––a covenant to accept pasts of suffering without acknowledging them as present influences. Simon, the pseudo-leader of the children, collects these stories and will refuse to express love until newcomers contribute their own.

IX. Simon wants to understand abandonment more than everyone else so that he can command compromises of love in the orphanage. When Courgette is adopted, he will rebuke and contend until Courgette feels obliged to stay, but he will tell Courgette that this is his only chance of being loved. Courgette will go when Simon says he must, and Simon will resume his reign.

X. A quote from screenwriter Celine Sciamma: “Our narrative is about telling all the emotions at the same time.

XI. Vignettes dispense beauty in incompletes: the way Courgette and Camille confess to each other while imbued in snow, and Courgette faces no repercussions for gleaning his familiarity from illegally looking at her file, the way Simon and Courgette will ignore their sensitivities so that Simon can tell Courgette to “fly” like an epithet of a wholly earnest friendship, or the way the children will take a single smiling picture and fasten it to Courgette’s kite before they return to the conditioned dysfunction in which they had casually languished.

XII. Thus, the orphanage assistant at the end of the film never answers the children’s questions about her newborn son. A story about orphans will not provide definitives on parental love. She will promise to never give her child to an orphanage but leave a “no matter what?” suspended in the air. The last vignette ends like this: children beaming down from the sky on the back of a kite sail.