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My Life as a Zucchini
⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Rated: PG-13, thematic elements and suggestive material.

This charming movie is not really about a vegetable. It’s about an orphan whose mother called him Courgette, which means summer squash. “My Life as a Summer Squash” apparently did not test well with U.S. audiences.

Well, who cares what you call it. It’s a lovely little animated film, but it is in French, so at any moment its cast of 9-year-olds can suddenly start talking about sex.

The movie, at its outset, may also seem macabre to American eyes, even those weaned on Tim Burton. Zucchini (voice of Erick Abbate) lives with his single mother (an abusive drunk) in a cramped urban apartment, where he hides out in the attic. When Mom gets angry and comes to spank him, he accidentally closes the attic door on her head and —

Cut to the orphanage.

Or more precisely, a home for troubled children, run by sympathetic counselors who ask Zucchini to talk about his mother.

“She liked to drink beer,” is his economical reply, and he puts up a brave front, but the character’s clay design tells you everything you need to know — the mop of blue hair sitting atop his big round head, the melancholy circles of blue around his large eyes.

The children’s home is Dickens by way of Hugo, and what is initially framed as a heart-tugging tale of hard times and neglect grows brighter — a compassionate cop (Nick Offerman) becomes a surrogate dad. Even the “bad” characters deepen and expand and the story pushes toward a happy resolution, hastened by the arrival of the orphaned Camille, a smart and pretty girl. Will Zucchini’s overtures bear fruit? Or will they be squashed?

The movie’s story is simple and winning, its animation captivating, striking that peculiar mood that only stop-motion can create.

Give Zucchini a chance. He just might grow on you.

GARY THOMPSON, Philadelphia Daily News

The Ottoman Lieutenant
⋆½ out of four stars
Rated: R, war violence.

Viewers who want to see the record set straight about what came to be known as the Armenian genocide shouldn’t look to “The Ottoman Lieutenant” to present evidence of war crimes. It isn’t so much a war movie as a melodrama that uses violence as a convenient backdrop for romantic intrigue.

That’s not the only problem. The trouble starts with the casting. As strong-willed American nurse Lillie, Icelandic actress Hera Hilmar never quite nails the accent required to play the daughter of a well-to-do family in 1914 Philadelphia.

“I thought I was going to change the world,” Lillie says during the mawkish voice-over narration. “Of course, it was the world that changed me.”

After meeting Jude (wooden Josh Hartnett), an inspirational doctor who has been working at a remote hospital in Anatolia, Lillie volunteers to hand-deliver medical supplies there. Against her parents’ wishes, she boards a steamship for Turkey, arriving on the cusp of World War I, just as tensions are boiling over between the Christian Armenians and the Muslim Turks.

But don’t give any of that too much thought. The real focus is the drama among Lillie, Jude and the dashing Turkish officer Ismail (Michiel Huisman).

A lieutenant in the Ottoman army, Ismail is the military escort assigned to deliver Lillie to Jude’s hospital. Predictably, Ismail and Lillie don’t get along at first. Nor does she mesh with the cranky old man who’s in charge of the hospital, Dr. Woodruff (Ben Kingsley, essentially playing a cliché). Woodruff drones on about how the hospital is no place for a woman, then questions Lillie’s credentials: “You can’t even recognize typhus? Where did you get your training?”

Here’s a better question: How long will it take before both men come around? Ladies and gentlemen, place your bets.

As victims straggle into the hospital, Lillie is confronted with a difficult choice between the increasingly sanctimonious Jude and the mysterious Muslim officer. Given Ismail’s winning smile — not to mention the title of the movie — it’s pretty obvious where this is going.

Along the way, there are a few moments of genuine suspense, with Ismail out in the field battling Armenians. The movie takes great pains to show that he’s reluctant to spill blood; he’s just following orders.

But morality is hardly the main concern of “The Ottoman Lieutenant.” Instead, it’s content with hackneyed romance and soaring strings.

STEPHANIE MERRY, Washington Post