My Life as a Zucchini (2016)
Written by Céline Sciamma (with contributions from Germano Zullo, Claude Barras, & Morgan Navarro)
Directed by Claude Barras
Icare, nicknamed Zucchini by his mother, lives in the wake of his father’s abandonment of the family. She has taken to binge drinking to self-medicate her increasing depression. Things get bad at home and Zucchini is picked up by a police officer, Raymond, who has deep empathy for the rough situation the boy is in. He delivers him to an orphanage where Zucchini meets kids who have ended up in this place due to parents being deported, arrested, succumbing to drug addiction, and physically abusing them. Despite their hardships, they form a makeshift family and learn how to feel empathy for each other and recognize the differences and strengths of each other.
My Life as a Zucchini is a bright and colorful stop-motion animated that tackles some rough social issues but keeps a positive outlook and doesn’t allow its characters to be diminished into an assemblage of fears and flaws. Zucchini is a creative person, and when we first meet him he’s hiding in his attic bedroom, walls covered in crayon drawings of events in his life. He’s constructing a kite with an image of his absent father on it, the other side has a chicken, as the boy explains later, “my mom said my dad loves chicks.” Throughout the film, Zucchini develops a relationship with Officer Raymond by sharing drawings of his life in the orphanage, and he uses these images to tell the story of what he sees in his companions. The aesthetics of the film are done in a crude childlike crayon look, reflecting Zucchini’s art on the screen.
The entire picture is seen through our protagonist’s eyes, so the harsher details of life are obscured from our view. This doesn’t mean Zucchini isn’t confronted with tough choices; it’s just that his viewpoint softens the full weight. We never know for sure what Alice’s father did, but through her OCD tendencies and the way she hides her face behind her hair, the mature audience can infer through our knowledge. To Zucchini, she is just another child who has been hurt, but her pain doesn’t define her. When Camille arrives at the home, she goes about empowering kids like Alice into not hiding themselves but being proud of themselves.
Director Barras shows us the sorrow of these children and their instinct to be defensive when meeting new people. Simon could easily be framed as the bully trope as soon as he’s introduced. However, there’s an intent to develop him, and he gives up on his act about a day into Zucchini’s arrival. They swap “war stories,” Simon acting as though his background of parents who were drug abusers wasn’t a big deal. Simon casually remarks about himself and the other children that “there’s nobody left to love us.” In the third act, we see how much it pains Simon to lose friends and how standoffish he becomes. Thankfully, Zucchini is aware of what’s going on beneath Simon’s behavior and ensures his friend that he loves him.
My biggest complaint about this film is how short it is, clocking in at only 62 minutes. There is a lot more development that could happen with these characters and further fleshing out relationships. Things start to feel badly rushed in the second half of the picture, and I think it could have benefitted from another 30 minutes on the runtime. Despite its brevity, this is a powerful film that could help many children in similar situations or aid in developing empathy for children who are trying to understand classmates’ and friends’ volatile behaviors. The message I take away from this marvelous movie is that we have felt pain, but we are not defined or limited by it.