Thursday 20 July 2017

On Blu-ray - David Hare nominates his best film of 2016, MA VIE DE COURGETTE (Claude Barras, Switzerland/France)

Courgette, Camille and Raymond. Two lost children and a lost father coming together through the grace of this wonderful, exquisitely made, profoundly moving, stop frame animation film from Swiss director Claude Barras. Amongst other things Barras studied graphics at the École Emile Cohl in France during his tenure and the scrupulously achieved, direct and
unsentimental uncluttered work of Cohl, the creator of what we know these days as the animated film is deftly translated down a century plus of movie history to make a stunning artistic debut in this small (66 minutes) masterpiece from 2016.

The screenplay was written by Celine Sciamma who seems to have been completely tuned into Barras' vision. This is a distinguished addition to her own filmography which includes Girlhood (2013), Bande de Filles (2016) and the screenplay for Téchiné's big return to form this year, Quand on a 17 ans.

The Children's Movie, maybe more correctly movies with and about children, is the greatest minefield for miscalculation in tone and self-indulgence of all the movie genres that have been born in the previous 120 years of cinema history. Setting aside the animated feature (live puppet or drawn), and the Disney and other cartoon/live action franchises, if we allow ourselves to examine a dedicated sub-set of Children's Films we find precious few great works, but at the top several both precious in number and great they be.

Sammy Going South (Alexander Mackendrick, UK, 1963) with a boy who becomes a man and loses his innocence when he faces his nemesis and kills the Tiger. Lang's greatest 50s movie, Moonfleet (USA, 1955) with its subterranean universe of caves, passages and treasure troves guarded by the dead in which the orphaned boy comes to learn the truth about his hero/father substitute, himself and mankind. Laughton's only film as director and Agee's best screenplay, Night of the Hunter (USA, 1955) which is simply incomparable in the American talking film era. The Window (Ted Tetzlaff, USA, 1949) and W.C Menzies fine Invaders from Mars (USA, 1953) whose central child figure becomes the focus and last rational human remains of the entropic noir and science fiction realm. Similarly Spielberg's best movie, AI:Artifical Intelligence (USA, 2001), a project declined by Kubrick, in which Spielberg's Jewishness and his central sense of abandonment are brilliantly channeled into a near masterpiece that itself imagines the end of the human race with the robot boy as its only witness.

Zéro de Conduite
And the very greatest Children's Film of all, Zéro de Conduite (Jean Vigo, France, 1933) which challenges the whole world to dispel its unfairness and its hypocrisy and its tendency to evil through the sheer life force of the protagonists, ultimately led by the shy queerboy whose march of liberation VIgo choreographs in an orgasmic slow motion dormitory parade of feathers literally tearing apart social fabric and in a highly sexualized image, bourgeois power.

If children can remind us constantly of our innocence or our potential for goodness, their presence in these movies allows us to enter what might be called a state of grace. Ma Vie de Courgette joins this distinguished list. The screens above are from a new German Blu-ray from Praesens-films. While the German disc carries audio in German and original French, there are no English subtitles. But given dialogue is sparse and the picture literally moves and unfolds its emotional and physical narrative almost totally by visual means, expression, gesture and mise-en-scene, the lack of subs seems a small thing if you have the slightest French language knowledge.

This is my best film of 2016.

Editors Note: This film played the 2016 Melbourne International Film Festival, has been screened at ACMI and screened at the 2017 Sydney Film Festival in both French and English versions under the title My Life as a Zucchini.

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