Per­fectly be­haved chil­dren

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM REVIEWS - DON­ALD CLARKE

MY LIFE AS A COUR­GETTE Di­rected by Claude Bar­ras. Voices of Gas­pard Sch­lat­ter, Six­tine Mu­rat, Paulin Jac­coud, Michel Vuiller­moz, Raul Rib­era, Estelle Hen­nard, El­liot Sanchez. 12A cert, lim­ited re­lease, 66 min For much of its du­ra­tion, Claude Bar­ras’s lovely French an­i­ma­tion – a nom­i­nee at this year’s Os­cars – looks to be telling the sad­dest story ever told.

The film opens with a young, blue-haired boy, who goes by the name of Cour­gette, liv­ing un­com­fort­ably with his boozy mother. He flies a kite through the at­tic win­dow and builds pyra­mids from mum’s empty beer cans. Any per­son who’s spent time alone as a child will recog­nise the des­per­ate ef­fort to fill those hours with doo­dles and dis­trac­tions.

Fol­low­ing a mishap, Cour­gette finds him­self be­ing driven to a chil­dren’s home by a well-mean­ing po­lice of­fi­cer. There he meets kids who have prob­lems of sim­i­lar and greater mag­ni­tude to his own.

There are the mak­ings of a bru­tal so­cial-re­al­ist piece in that sce­nario. But, work­ing from a book by Gilles Paris, Bar­ras turns the piece into a cel­e­bra­tion of lit­tle de­cen­cies and quiet kind­ness. The stop-mo­tion an­i­ma­tion de­picts the in­di­vid­ual kids with great econ­omy. One pos­si­bly autis­tic girl ex­presses un­ease by al­low­ing a cur­tain of hair to fall over an eye. An­other fel­low has a plas­ter per­ma­nently be­tween nose and eye.

Cour­gette’s ini­tial bête noir, a half-hearted bully who is open to ne­go­ti­a­tion, sports an ag­gres­sive point of red hair in the mid­dle of his head. They are all dam­aged, but they all have some­thing to give.

For the most part, un­kind­ness is kept off screen. Cour­gette’s mum – sad, rather than ac­tively abu­sive, we sus­pect – is lit­tle more than a slouch­ing shadow in front of the TV. The cruel aunt who (in prime Dick­en­sian fash­ion) looks to snatch Cour­gette’s fe­male friend for the so­cial wel­fare payments doesn’t reckon with the in­ge­nu­ity of our team.

The film is a beau­ti­fully bal­anced, vis­ual mar­vel. There is al­ways some­thing fas­ci­nat­ing hap­pen­ing in the cor­ner of ev­ery frame. Bar­ras has a habit of hold­ing group shots longer than ex­pected to press home the in­creas­ing close­ness of the kids. He gives them round, ex­pres­sive eyes, framed by red­dened rims that speak to their con­tin­u­ing stress.

If My Life as a Cour­gette has a prob­lem – and it prob­a­bly doesn’t – it is to do with the ex­ces­sively sunny de­pic­tion of chil­dren in care. Few can live in quite such bor­der­line idyl­lic cir­cum­stances. Only a jerk would, how­ever, long to see these won­der­ful char­ac­ters fur­ther in­con­ve­nienced.

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