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Claude Barras • Director

“The idea was to share positive and constructive values with children”


- CANNES 2016: Swiss filmmaker Claude Barras discusses his appealing animated film My Life as a Courgette, unveiled in the Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes

Claude Barras  • Director
(© Directors' Fortnight)

The day after My Life as a Courgette [+see also:
film review
interview: Claude Barras
film profile
premiered in the Directors’ Fortnight at the 69th Cannes Film Festival, Swiss director Claude Barras sat down with Cineuropa to discuss the journey he undertook while creating his first feature film, a moving and original animation with a positive approach to a harsh childhood.

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Cineuropa: What made you decide to take the novel Autobiography of a Courgette to the big screen?
Claude Barras
: I started making films with Cédric Louis, with whom I directed the short Banquise, which was selected at Cannes in 2006 and looked at the life of a young obese girl who is upset because of the opinions of others during the heat of summer. That film was already a very particular look at childhood, and as a result, Cédric, who had read Gilles Paris’ novel, suggested we work together and adapt it for cinema.

What is it that makes you want to work with the area of childhood?
What interests me is trying to play on the emotions of the audience member. Taking them back to their childhood is a way of hypnotising them into opening up to their emotions. We all have a unique connection with childhood. As Céline Sciamma says, “When you are a child, all it takes is a friend turning their back on you or a little remark to have an impact on your life.”

Speaking of Céline Sciamma, how did she come on board this project? Was it just for the writing process?
I started working on the script with Cédric. We made several shorts, and between each of them, we worked on this project. That lasted for seven years. We drew the characters together at the start. Then, Cédric started working on documentaries, and I took guardianship of the project. The story had the very episodic and choral feel of a book, and so I came up with the idea of making episodes. However, the Swiss producers, Max Karli and Pauline Gygax (Rita Productions), didn’t think that that would necessarily be the best way of going about telling this story and suggested I work with Céline, whom they knew. I didn’t hesitate even for a second, because I loved her work. For My Life as a Courgette, she created a rather classical, simple and well-refined story arc, leaving room for each of the rather endearing characters to have their spot in the limelight, shining in their own way. Just how I like it! We were on the same wavelength and instantly agreed on the type of film that we wanted to make.

The film looks at some very dark themes in a very tender way, focusing on abuse, foster families, adoption and loneliness, but brilliantly highlighting themes of solidarity, friendship and love.
It wasn’t a particularly social choice, although I suppose that in a way it was. I make films for children partially because I think that there is a lack of diversity in what they can see these days. There are some great forms of entertainment for them, and there are also a few great films that represent reality a little, albeit not that many. I’d rather talk about realistic things that actually happen because films should also make children think, not just keep them entertained. As such, this story, which went from dark to light, was perfect: the idea was to share positive and constructive values with children. This film is a way of showing them how love, friendship and compassion can help us all live together better.

How did the process of making the film, using stop-motion animation, actually go?
As soon as I started using this technique, I knew that I would never stop, because it’s an involved and physical type of cinema that plays with light, but it also has some very strict constraints – once you start animating, shooting one image after another, you can’t go back and fix it. It’s a little like a jazz concert; you need to leave yourself open to being guided by any imperfections and just improvise. I like this direct aspect to it, even if it takes a very long time and you don’t manage to shoot more than a few seconds per day – putting it together took three years! But these are films that don’t cost any more than 3D computer animation, and the journey of making it was a lot more enjoyable for my team and me. We are almost like a theatre troupe; we don’t always work together, but we often run into each other, because the world of stop-motion is a small one. That being said, the road we took was difficult at times, and there was a time during filming when questions concerning the funding became crucial and drove me to using sequence shots, a decision that turned out to be rather beneficial for the film in the end.

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(Translated from French)

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