There’s a climactic reconciliation scene at the end of the Oscar-nominated stop-motion feature, “My Life as a Zucchini,” which is the favorite of director Claude Barras. It contains a wonderful dramatic reversal, in which a supporting character turns heroic, thus becoming the moment of truth in this coming of age drama.
Zucchini and his girlfriend have a chance to leave the orphanage and live with the cop who offers to adopt them. But that would mean leaving his best friend, Simon, who first bullied Zucchini when he joined the orphanage. So when Zucchini approaches Simon to discuss the situation, Simon’s initial response is to jump on him in anger. But that turns into a hug and Simon convinces Zucchini to grab his best opportunity at happiness.
“For me, it is the scene that has the most emotion because it really unveils the depth of Simon’s soul,” Barras told IndieWire. “And I like it when supporting parts are strong and Simon represents that. And even if it is about Zucchini, Simon is the hero because he takes the longest way to open up to the others. And he sacrifices his own comfort and well-being to Camille and to Zucchini by letting them go.”
Added Barras: “Because they are orphans, the scene of being abandoned is very strong. And so they have to confront that feeling of abandonment so they can go on and live a new life. Simon puts his hat back on and it’s symbolic of appeasement and acceptance.”
“And the other thing is, they’re both disguised, so when he holds Zucchini really close to him, this is the first time that a cop [Simon] and a superhero [Zucchini] hug each other,” Barras said.
For Barras, who was inspired by “The 400 Blows,” the simple expressiveness of stop-motion is like playing with emoticons. That is why he’s drawn to big faces and bright colors. You don’t have to work that hard to create emotion and empathy, as the imperceptible movement of an eyelid can convey a great deal.
On a personal level, Barras said he could relate to Zucchini because he draws (his father taught him to draw when he was very young), and he could relate to Simon because he’s both gentle and cruel, which best describes the director as a child.
Still, there was a technical hurdle at the end of the scene.
“When they are so close together that was a problem because the heads are so big,” Barras said. “We built a rig and we shot it really, really fast so you don’t notice there are shots in front of each other.”
Once again, that’s how Barras kept it simple and emotional.