×

Annecy Film Review: ‘I Lost My Body’

One of the strangest ideas ever committed to animation — a severed hand seeks answers — ultimately proves to be one of the medium's most profound offerings.

Director:
Jérémy Clapin
With:
Hakim Faris, Victoire Du Bois, Patrick d'Assumçao.

Running time: 81 MIN.

Official Site: https://xilam.com/media/jpmc/

At the 2014 Cartoon Movie co-production forum in Lyon, France, I sat in on a pitch session for the strangest animated feature imaginable. (Remember, this is a medium that has given us square-pantsed sponges and rats who dream of becoming French chefs.) This particular film, an artsy — and, fittingly, hand-drawn — indie titled “J’ai perdu mon corps” (or “I Lost My Body”), would be told from the point of view of a severed hand, separated under ambiguous circumstances, and the epic quest to reunite with its owner. I left Cartoon Movie intrigued but also feeling reasonably certain that this defiantly unconventional project would never see the light of day.

Flash forward five years, and “I Lost My Body” not only exists but screened to great acclaim at the Cannes Film Festival, where it was acquired by Netflix and won the top prize in Critics’ Week. In its finished form, director Jérémy Clapin’s peculiar undertaking (adapted from the novel “Happy Hand,” by Guillaume Laurant) is even stranger than it sounded to me half a decade earlier, and yet, there’s no question he’s pulled it off. In fact, I’d hazard to say it’s one of the most original and creative animated features I’ve ever seen: macabre, of course — how could it be otherwise, given the premise? — but remarkably captivating and unexpectedly poetic in the process.

It’s that rare cinematic experience whose every second feels like a discovery, as Clapin and co-writer Laurant invent an entirely new kind of mystery, one in which the entity doing the detective work — you’ve heard of private eyes; well, here we have a private hand — can’t speak, and the ensuing missing person investigation turns out to be a search for, well, himself. The film opens with a black-and-white vignette depicting a young boy, Naoufel (voiced by Hakim Faris), attempting to catch a housefly, while his intellectual father offers him pro tips from across the room. This is a curious memory for a boy to have, but not so for the hand itself, as the recollection seems to be one of the earliest souvenirs the otherwise amnesiac appendage has of its previous life.

Audiences don’t know it yet, but practically every detail in the film has significance, and Naoufel’s fly-catching lesson will make sense later, as the winged pest becomes one of many motifs to which Clapin and Laurant return — seemingly at random but actually always by design — in their intricately braided narrative. Desperate for anything to orient us in a film that uses what we don’t yet know about its characters to repeatedly subvert our expectations, we study these flashbacks for clues. (Note that the rest of this review could spoil some of the film’s surprises.)

Eased ever deeper by Dan Levy’s mesmerizing score (a stellar solo effort by one-half of indie electro-pop duo The Dø), audiences gradually discover that Naoufel is a Moroccan orphan whose parents died in a car crash, and who moved to Paris, where he worked as a lowly pizza delivery boy until such time as he met Gabrielle (Victoire Du Bois), a hipster Gen Z librarian who gives his life purpose. Crippled by shyness — but not yet handicapped by it — he follows Gabrielle to her uncle’s carpentry studio, spontaneously asking for work as an apprentice.

None of that — certainly not the naive young romance that emerges at the heart of the mystery — seems to follow from the macabre scene in which Naoufel’s hand emerges from a medical lab refrigerator, improvising its escape across the floor, clawing its way up a hospital skeleton and launching itself out the window. Rather, we might be inclined to think that some kind of crime has been committed (the missing body may even have been murdered) and that it’s up to the hand to solve the case. But Clapin insists on our patience, for now, following these single-minded digits on a journey … where?

As further memories flood back — of Naoufel’s hand fumbling through piano lessons, feeling the breeze through an open car window — the reanimated limb faces daunting challenges in the present. Taken for granted in its time, but now driven as if by instinct (which can prove grisly at times), the hand hitches a ride via stray pigeon, snapping the bird’s neck when done. It’s understandably freaked out by the escalator that leads down to the subway, where it grabs a fallen lighter to defend itself against the feral rats. And at one point, it even fools a blind man’s dog into retrieving it during a game of fetch at the park.

Audiences have seen disembodied hands in films before — whether it’s “The Beast With Five Fingers” or Thing of “The Addams Family” — but never as such a sympathetic protagonist. Here, the hand has one goal — to find Naoufel — but that potential reunion isn’t what drives us. We want to know how the hand came to be separated, and as we learn more about its owner, we also wish to know what became of his head and his heart. If Naoufel is still alive, did he wind up with Gabrielle?

The film doesn’t offer anything even remotely close to a conventional resolution, choosing instead to end its journey with a scene that pays off recurring elements that have been threaded through the movie until now: Naoufel’s obsession with igloos, his childhood cassette recorder, the view of the city from an abandoned building and a dare, expressed to Gabrielle from that very same rooftop, to try the sort of “totally irrational” feat it takes to upset destiny. That’s the significance of a last scene that, without answering anything, opens up a kind of infinite, unscripted realm of possibility to Clapin’s characters. On one hand, it’s a profound — and profoundly ambiguous — ending, considering that we can never know what the future holds. On the other … oh wait, there is no other hand.

Annecy Film Review: 'I Lost My Body'

Reviewed at Grand Action, Paris, May 11, 2019. (In Cannes, Annecy film festivals.) Running time: 81 MIN. (Original title: “J'ai perdu mon corps”)

Production: (Animated – France) A Netflix release of a Marc Du Pontavice presentation of a Studio Xilam Animation production, in co-production with Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes Cinéma, in association with Sofitvciné 6, Indéfilms 7, with the participation of la Région Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, the CNC, with the support of la Région Île-de-France, la Région Réunion, in partnership with the CNC. Producer: Marc Du Pontavice.

Crew: Director: Jérémy Clapin. Screenplay: Clapin, Guillaume Laurant, after the novel “Happy Hand” by Laurant. Editor: Benjamin Massoubre. Music: Dan Levy. Animation director: David Nasser.

With: Hakim Faris, Victoire Du Bois, Patrick d'Assumçao.

More Film

  • Elsie Fisher and Bo Burnham2019 Writers

    Writers Guild Announces 2020 Awards Show Date

    The 72nd Annual Writers Guild Awards will take place in coinciding ceremonies in Los Angeles at the Beverly Hilton and the Edison Ballroom in New York on Feb. 1, the Writers Guild of America announced. The WGA will begin voting in November and will reveal this year’s TV nominees Dec. 5 and film Jan. 6. [...]

  • Tarantino Movies Ranked Illustration

    All of Quentin Tarantino's Movies Ranked

    In the history of cinema, has any director done more to elevate the idea of movies as cool than Quentin Tarantino? Certainly, the idea that films could be made by fans dates back at least to the French New Wave, when a group of die-hard critics stepped behind the camera. A few years later, Spielberg, [...]

  • A Stranger on the Beach

    Anonymous Content Wins Film Rights to Michele Campbell's 'A Stranger on the Beach' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Anonymous Content has won the adaptive rights to the forthcoming Michele Campbell novel “A Stranger on the Beach.” In a competitive situation, Anonymous outbid multiple players for the thriller, which it will adapt for the big screen with in-house producers Alex Goldstone and Rosalie Swedlin. More Reviews Concert Review: Queen and Adam Lambert Capitalize on [...]

  • Ridley Scott Matt Damon Ben Affleck

    Ridley Scott, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and Nicole Holofcener Team on 'The Last Duel'

    Ridley Scott looks to have his next directing job, as he has signed on to direct “The Last Duel” with Matt Damon and Ben Affleck attached to star. Damon and Affleck co-wrote the script with Oscar-nominated Nicole Holofcener. Scott, Damon and Affleck all producing along with Scott’s producing partner Kevin Walsh. Drew Vinton is also [...]

  • Jonathan Taylor Thomas Ed Asner Elliott

    Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Ed Asner, Elliott Gould Seek SAG-AFTRA Board Seats

    Ed Asner, Elliott Gould and Jonathan Taylor Thomas are seeking SAG-AFTRA national board seats as members of presidential candidate Matthew Modine’s progressive Membership First slate. Asner is the former president of the Screen Actors Guild, serving two terms from 1981 to 1985, and winning five Emmys for his role as Lou Grant and two others [...]

  • Natalie Portman Thor Comic Con

    Comic-Con: Marvel 'Shock and Awe' Strategy Dominates Twitter Buzz

    Disney’s Marvel Studios handily won the hype trophy from this year’s Comic-Con International San Diego. Marvel Studios — which returned to the 2019 Comic-Con stage with a chock-full Phase 4 slate of announcements — dominated the discussion on Twitter out of the convention, capturing the biggest volume of buzz for nine of the top 10 [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content