After a good BD (bande dessinée, or graphic novel), what a French person loves best is a good animated film. I recently saw two that stand out for their great humanity and empathy: Louise en Hiver (Louise by the Shore) and Ma Vie de Courgette (My Life as a Zucchini).
Louise was hand painted by its director, Jean-François Laguionie, in watercolor on Canson art paper. Many of its sea-and skyscapes are breathtakingly beautiful, making you want to join its heroine Louise and live on the beach year-round.
The simple story shows what happens to the elderly Louise when she misses the last train of the season out of a seaside resort she visits every year, which is shut up tight for the winter.
Louise turns out to be what the French would call a débrouillarde (resourceful person). She announces right away that she is not afraid and proceeds to build herself a shelter on the beach, breaking into the local department store to get what she needs to build it and camp out.
Talking to herself and writing in her diary, Louise tells us her life story – her childhood during the war and her later loves and losses – through memories and dreams brought to life in Laguionie’s paintings.
There are many holes in the story – how is it that the weather remains so clement throughout the winter in what appears to be a northern resort (Louise never even seems cold), and why does no one notice that she is missing and come looking for her? – but it doesn’t really matter. This is a fairytale, or perhaps just Louise’s dream.
At one point a helicopter passes over the town but doesn’t see Louise waving at it. After it leaves, we see her writing giant letters in the sand. “Help”? No. Just an existential question: “Why?”
The award-winning stop-action film Ma Vie de Courgette, directed by Claude Barras and based on the novel Autobiographie d’une
Courgette by Gilles Paris, is something very different from the poetic Louise. I found the aesthetics of the characters – big heads, huge eyes, cone-shaped noses – unappealing, but the realistic story, about a group of children from hard-case families living together in a home, is very touching.
The main character, nicknamed Courgette (Zucchini), who was accidentally responsible for the death of his alcoholic single mother, slowly learns to adapt to his new life and new friends, some of whom, like the bully Simon, start out as enemies.
Courgette doesn’t spare us the harsh realities of these children’s lives, but it shows how they gradually relax and blossom thanks to the kindness and attention of the home’s caretakers, and manages to be heartwarming without resorting to cutesiness or sentimentality.
These “cartoons” are more appropriate for adults or older kids than for the little ones.