I Lost My Body movie review: A severed hand goes on a Parisian adventure in Jérémy Clapin's stunning animated film
I Lost My Body was screened at Fantastic Fest following its world premiere in the International Critics' Week section at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival.
A fly buzzes around a pool of blood. A young man lies on the floor next to it. Also lying on the floor are his glasses and his possibly severed hand. These opening images of Jérémy Clapin's animated film, I Lost My Body (J'ai perdu mon corps), perfectly establish the mood and mystery of the story to come.
If we were to tell you that the film is about this severed hand's extraordinary journey through the dangerous urban terrain of Paris to reunite with its owner, would you believe us? Well, it is. Try pitching that to Pixar.
Our feisty five-fingered protagonist miraculously gets a mind of its own and escapes from a hospital laboratory. Thus begin a series of thrilling adventures as it crawls through ventilation ducts, rides on garbage trucks, jumps from building rooftops and glides along improvised ziplines like it were auditioning for the next Mission Impossible instalment. Our action hero also battles rodents, pigeons and ants in its noble quest and soon, you can't help but root for it.
In parallel, we see flashbacks of its owner, Naoufel's (Hakim Faris) backstory. Black-and-white images take us back to Naoufel as a kid in Morocco living happily with his parents — his owlish father and cellist mother. He's a dreamer and aspires to be a pianist and astronaut. But fate, that cruel mistress, has different plans. After his parents die in a car accident, he is forced to move to Paris with his uncaring uncle and unpleasant cousin. Working a thankless job and unable to take control of his future, he has pretty much given up on life.
One rainy night while out on a pizza delivery, he meets Gabrielle (Victoire Du Bois). Though she is initially angry over her delayed dinner, she begins to empathise with his circumstances. This whole meet cute happens over the intercom and after their little heart-to-heart, Naoufel begins to hope and love again. He tracks her down at the library where she works and even gets himself hired as an apprentice in her uncle's carpentry workshop to be close to her.
But will he have the happy ending he wishes? Will the hand complete its journey successfully? Or does that cruel mistress have another say in these matters?
Clapin expertly stages the tense moments in the film. We know the fate that befalls Naoufel's hand but our heart still races every time it goes near any sharp object. When it tries to reach its destination by crossing over a motorway with an umbrella, our heart skips a beat every time it hits oncoming traffic. The animation beautifully captures the perspective of the hand as it is thrown into a tizzy with the light from traffic, street lamps, and floodlit structures creating a kinetic mosaic of colours.
For an animated film, the film features a pretty naturalistic colour scheme but there's a stunning depth of 2D detail in the background. The animation offers a study in contrasts as it wraps the fantastical elements of the story in the real, the past with the present, and the frenzy of city life with the quiet urban isolation. Dan Levy's music adds to the film’s melancholy without ever overasserting itself.
Clapin includes several shots that really makes us appreciate our sense of touch: a stream of sand sliding out of fingers, and the heavenly music that comes out of fingers hitting certain keys on a piano.
I Lost My Body closely examines the concept of free will vs determinism to understand how fate affects the human condition. In one of the flashbacks, we see young Naoufel try to catch a fly without success. So, his father advises him to anticipate its movements and try to catch it from the side, not from behind. This sets up Naoufel's own inability to "dribble fate" as he looks to move forward with his life.
In a sweet poetic reflection, Naoufel confides in Gabrielle how to circumvent fate. "We can change our fate only if we do something completely unpredictable and irrational. Something improvised you shouldn't be doing that you shouldn't have done, but you did because it got you somewhere else and you don't regret it."
Palm readers too believe that if the fate line is a clear straight one without too many crosses, you are more likely to succeed in your life, love and career. But I Lost My Body offers an important lesson. We tend to think our path to life is a straight line from where we are now to where we want to be. We set off on that straight line without understanding there are twists and turns, and unexpected challenges but also unexpected rewards. So, we must be prepared to follow the path to wherever it leads. Ultimately, as Naoufel says, "You run blindly and keep your fingers crossed."
I Lost My Body was screened at Fantastic Fest, America's largest genre film festival. Firstpost will be reviewing select features as part of our remote coverage of the festival.
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