I know most of us are used to flawless, CGI animated style of Disney and Pixar, but the alternative animated scene is just as captivating and rewarding. Take for instance I Lost My Body, a French animated film directed by Jérémy Clapin, has an artistic lushness that is not afraid to be different, with a Studio Ghibli-esque standard of tackling adult themes. Based on Guillaume Laurant’s novel Happy Hand, the title is self-explanatory – a dismembered hand goes on an audacious yet perilous journey through the Parisian streets of Paris to reconnect with its owner. As gruesome and horrific as that may sound, that doesn’t stop it for being a bloody good film.
The plot is undoubtedly strange and fantastical, offering little explanation as to how a hand could realistically possess the self-aware and sentient capabilities to move around in the fashion that it does. But skipping past the obvious Addams Family joke, its story comes at a genuine surprise, drenched by its heartfelt sincerity and emotional engagement. You don’t expect the direction it takes, but by its conclusion, you’re glad you went along for the imaginative ride.
But the dismembered hand narrative is just one aspect. At the heart of it, I Lost My Body is a love story, the story of Naoufel (voiced by Hakim Faris) who once dreamed of being a pianist and an astronaut, but saw his dreams curtailed when his parents were killed in a car accident. Forced to live with his relations who have little interest in his emotional and isolated wellbeing, he works as a pizza delivery boy with all the same problems that Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) faced in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2. But in the classic vein of all love stories, Naoufel meets Gabrielle (Victoire Du Bois), a librarian who lives on the 34th floor of an apartment block. Her food delivery is late and damaged (due to Naoufel’s traffic collision), and the door entry system doesn’t work – their exchanges separated by an intercom system. But as the saying goes, one chance encounter can change everything.
Naoufel finds himself drawn to Gabrielle, following her to work and later, delivering medicine to her sick uncle. Seeking a new opportunity to ditch his job and get closer to Gabrielle, Naoufel convinces Gabrielle’s uncle to be his wood crafting apprentice despite having no experience. It may sound a bit stalker-ish (given the lengths), but I Lost My Body is played up like an old-fashioned courtship and companionship where Naoufel aims to prove his worth.
Clapin’s direction is impressively measured and assured throughout, assembling the movie like a Christopher Nolan puzzle. He exercises a patient build-up that’s beautifully layered with the casual intersperse of foreboding and dread. There’s an animated homage to Breaking Bad’s Season 3 episode The Fly that acts in Caplin’s world as a teasing countdown to the inevitable. Predictably, we know who the hand belongs to. It doesn’t take much mental work to connect the dots. But through its willing desire to emotionally move its audience, thankfully its predictability doesn’t overshadow its intentions.
And true to its form, it’s not afraid to dial up the tension and gore. If the film makes us empathetic to Naoufel’s plight of an inner-city reality where he struggles to find confidence in life again, then the hand’s world is no different. Drumming up the ground level dangers of its concrete jungle scenery, the hand becomes a character within itself with all of its distinct personalities of fear and bravery. Pigeons, rats and ants all become ‘heart in your mouth’ moments. The obstacles are laced with the surreal such as the hand listening to a blind man playing with a piano (which is juxtaposed with Naoufel’s childhood piano days with his mother) or the hand helping a baby get back to sleep by finding its dummy. But unquestionably, as it invests in its characters, you can’t help rooting for it.
That poignancy, without question, is what brilliantly shines throughout. With its occasional, reflective pauses and black and white flashbacks that emotionally enhance rather than detract, the journey of the hand and Naoufel are equally weighted, with fate, grief and accountability high on its agenda. Being an animated film helps sweeten the deal. Somehow you can’t imagine this story being live-action. It wouldn’t have the same, resonating impact that Clapin and his production crew provides. As an animated feature, it takes advantage of the medium, appreciating the animator’s pinpoint desire to visualise the film’s modern-day fairy tale qualities with a Dan Levy’s synth-based score reinforcing its premise.
But if there’s a poetic meaning to symbolise its emotional feat as its takeaway, then it goes to show how intrinsically connected we are with our bodies. As the film reflects on Naoufel’s journey, there’s a conscious parallel it indulges where we can momentarily take stock of our own hands and how the most mundane, simplistic or complicated tasks are often taken for granted.
There’s no doubt that this is a film with a soul. With its ‘leap of faith’ analogy into the unknown, it’s an artful reminder of embracing change and resiliency that accompanies heartbreak and joy. It doesn’t end as you would expect but has enough courage to tug on your heartstrings. No matter how soft-centred it explores that, it’s no wonder it won the Grand Prize at the Cannes Critics’ Week because it is a well-deserved accomplishment as a cinematic highpoint of animation. With a Netflix acquisition under its belt, it won’t be long before everyone can experience this gem.
I LOST MY BODY is screening as part of the BFI’s London Film Festival 2019. For screening details and ticket availability, please visit their website for more details.