Have you ever stopped to consider what life is like through the eyes of a hand? No? Then your name wouldn’t be Guillaume Laurant, co-writer of 2001’s Amelie and author of Happy Hand, the 2006 novel that serves as the basis for I Lost My Body, the debut feature from French director Jérémy Clapin. On paper, the film sounds like a ridiculous prospect: a film about a severed hand journeying across the city to reunite with its body. But this bizarre premise leads, surprisingly, to a very human – albeit very quirky – story about the nature of life, love, and loss.
Told across multiple timelines, the film cuts between the hand’s journey and flashbacks of what are, essentially, its memories: we learn that it belongs to a young man named Naoufel, an Asian immigrant who has lived in France since being orphaned as a child; we see flashes of his childhood alongside more recent memories of his distant adoptive family and a chance meeting that could change his life… and everywhere we see his right hand – playing the piano, running its fingers through sand – always reminding us of the impending peril that is soon to befall Naoufel and sever that hand from his body.
Watching I Lost My Body, it’s hard to believe that this is Clapin’s first feature, as the direction displays a thoughtfulness and creativity that surpasses that of most experienced filmmakers, with each shot fully exploiting the freedom of ‘camera’ angles granted by animation. The stylish direction complements the distinctive look of the animation, which seamlessly blends 2D and 3D to create its own unique style.
But for all the visual flair – something which animation as a medium excels at – I Lost My Body stands out for the expert way in which it pulls off the quiet character moments that give the story its warmth. While subtle character moments may be easier to pull off in live-action with a couple of talented actors, the skill of Clapin and his animators make these moments some of the most effective, and memorable, in the movie, ensuring at the centre of the story of the roaming hand is a beating human heart.
If we were to find a flaw here, then it would have to be the ending. Finishing abruptly, the film leaves open some elements that would perhaps be better off resolved. After journeying across Paris with our leading hand, we seem to leave him before his quest is complete.
Nonetheless, I Lost My Body is a unique, eccentric, and heartfelt tale of humanity from the perspective of an outsider. While the quirky framing device may at first seem like a gimmick, a writer being eccentric for its own sake, being able to see Naoufel’s life from the distance afforded by this unusual structure means the film gains a wider perspective, exploring the subtleties of life and relationships beyond the experiences of just one man. A beautiful story with beautiful animation to match, I Lost My Body is a striking example of how cinema can use the fantastical to highlight the fantastic in the everyday.
I Lost My Body opens in select UK cinemas on 22nd November 2019 and will be available to stream on Netflix from 29th November.