Film Review: A Severed Hand Looks For Its Owner In ‘I Lost My Body’
I Lost My Body (or J’ai Perdu Mon Corps) is not your average animation. Premiering in the International Critics Week section of the 2019 Cannes Film festival, Jérémy Clapin’s 81-minute movie was awarded the Nespresso Grand Prize — a first for an animated feature. I Lost My Body was quickly snapped up by Netflix for worldwide distribution, no small feat for arthouse fare in a foreign language. However, from the beloved work of Hayao Miyazaki to recent outliers like Persepolis and The Red Turtle, animation has a history of gently dismantling cultural barriers.
Based on the novel Happy Hand by Amélie screenwriter Guillaume Laurant, I Lost My Body is staggeringly original. In addition to being a moving coming of age story, it’s also a profound rumination on trauma, loss and destiny. The film achieves this by impeccably bringing two storylines together. There’s the surreal present, which follows a severed hand on its journey from the morgue back to its owner and another, patched together through memories, explaining how said owner parted ways with his digits.
The film begins with a lonely extremity crawling out of a window. Impressively, it doesn’t take long to adjust to the fact that our protagonist is a hand. Such is the mastery of Jérémy Clapin’s direction that a crosstown journey becomes a wildly dangerous adventure as our five-fingered friend murders a pigeon, hides in soup cans, does battle with railway rats and rides a tennis ball to the surface of a frozen lake. While macabre, these scenes are jotted with moments of striking beauty. The umbrella ride across a bustling freeway is the most thrilling and unexpectedly poetic animated sequence of the year.
Formerly attached to North African immigrant Naofel, the hand is also the keeper of his happy memories. It’s the instrument Naofel used to touch his now-deceased parents and interact with the world around him. The hand also pressed the intercom button that led him to newfound hope. The sentient body part needs to reunite with Naofel to make him whole again, both physically and emotionally. While the hand is the key to the past, in the other storyline, its owner struggles to make sense of the here and now.
Shipped off to France after being orphaned in a car accident, Naofel ekes out a miserable existence delivering pizza. A task he’s not particularly good at it. Which becomes apparent when he’s 40 minutes late with a delivery. However, that leads to intriguing exchange via intercom with a mysterious customer called Gabrielle. For the first time, Naofel feels understood and, at least partially, seen. He misguidedly pursues Gabrielle and ultimately takes an apprenticeship with her uncle in order to be closer to her.
By the time the two storylines collide, Jérémy Clapin has fleshed out a world in which light somehow manages to poke through the black sludge of loss and misery. I Lost My Body is about the way trauma shapes us and how a cruel twist of fate can send someone careening down a desolate path. The fact that it conveys these themes through gorgeous 2D and 3D animation, exquisite sound design and minimal dialogue makes it one of the most intriguing films of 2019. I Lost My Body is in select theaters now. It debuts on Netflix on November 29.