Debuting at Cannes Directors’ Fortnight, Claude Barras’ “My Life as a Courgette” could hardly have gone better, winning Swiss animation a place in the sun and at foreign cinema theaters.
Barras’ first animated feature, “My Life as a Courgette” snagged Annecy’s Work in Progress prize last year, its top Golden Cristal as a completed film. In early August, it was chosen as Switzerland’s foreign-language Oscar entry. By Cannes, “Courgette” had also scored early and promising pre-sales, with Vertigo Media for Hungary, Folkets Bio for Sweden, and Cineart for Benelux.
The toon feature centres on Zucchini, a 10-year-old boy who ends up in an orphanage after his mother’s death.
Films inevitably echoes Francois Truffaut’s “The 400 Blows.” Barras revealed that Jean-Pierre Leaud, who will receive this year’s Palme d’honneur and stars in Albert Serra’s Cannes-selected “The Death of Louis XIV,” inspired the “Courgette” teaser.
However, “the pattern has been reversed: abuse is suffered in the outside world and the orphanage is a place of appeasement and reconstruction,” Barras explained.
“Courgette” is a stop-motion tooner made with puppets about 10” high that were handcrafted with latex foam for the hair, silicone for the arms, resin for the face, and fabric for the hand-sewn clothing.
“For me, there is a close, obvious relationship between the background social realism of the subject and the very concrete shape of the top-motion animation, rooted in the material reality of the shooting. It is a very demanding technique as, unlike digital techniques, we cannot change anything after shooting,” Barras said.
“We can say that this is a childhood film rather than a children’s film, a melodrama on childhood full of emotion and humor, a social realist animated feature,” he added.
“Courgette” is co-produced by Geneva’s Rita Productions, Monaco’s KNM, Angouleme and Montreal-based Blue Spirit Animation and Lyon’s Gebeka Films, with the support of Radio Télévision Suisse & la SSR SRG, Rhône-Alpes Cinéma, and France 3 cinéma. It is based on Gilles Paris’ novel and penned by Celine Sciamma (“Tomboy,”“Girlhood,” a 2014 Directors’ Fortnight).
Paris’ novel is written in the first person. “The little hero asks simple and deep, loving and naïf questions about the harshness of adult world. In the film, I did not want a voice over because I wanted to be in the here-and-now. We have also chosen to move away from the episodic structure of the novel to build a more classical dramatic arch. We have also broadened the public to take in children,” the young Swiss helmer observed.
Geneva-based Barras has directed several shorts including “Au Pays des tetes,” “Stigmates 2D,” “Chambre 69,” and “The Genie in a Ravioli Can.” He also has produced other works –those from Jadwiga Kowalska, Emilien Davaud, Lynn Devillaz and Antonio Veiras,– through his Lausanne label Helium Films, co-founded with helmer and illustrator Cédric Louis. Their aim is to back young Swiss animation talent.
“Courgette” international sales are handled by Paris-based Indie Sales “My Life as a Courgete”will be released in France on Oct. 19 via Gebeka Films, and in Switzerland courtesy of Praesens-Film. Cinéart will release it in the Netherlands.
On the horizon? “I would like to produce and co-produce shorts through our stop-motion studio Helium. And I am developing my second feature, a stop-motion targeting young audiences. It will turn on the disappearance of the last wild spaces and the last free people. It may be entitled ‘Sauvages.’”