One of the most gorgeous and unusual films of the year – animated or otherwise – I Lost My Body centers around a disembodied hand trying to find its way back to its owner. More Terrence Malick than The Addams Family, director Jérémy Clapin’s debut film sounds odder on paper than it actually is. Mostly I Lost My Body follows a young man just trying to become whole again in a world that has thrown plenty of surprises his way.
It begins with the severed hand escaping a medical freezer and attempting to get back to the right arm it belongs. Along the way, the hand fights off rats and birds, befriends a baby, and escapes treacherous situation after another. But as the hand makes its way across Paris, it flashes back to memories of its owner, and the “memories” that the hand has experienced, whether its being pricked by a rose bush as a child or trying to sneak up on a fly. Clapin, who also co-wrote the film with Amelie co-writer, Guillaume Laurant, show that our bodies are full of the experiences that we have undergone, almost a road map to our past traumas and the dazzling wonders we’ve come across over time. The adventures of this hand are beautifully realized and the entire film could’ve been simply a hand exploring France, looking back at its life attached to a person.
Less effective is the story of “the body,” Naoufel (Hakim Faris in the original French, Dev Patel in the English version), a pizza delivery boy who becomes interested in the young librarian, Gabrielle (Victorie Du Bois in French, Alia Shawkat in English). Naoufel is late delivering a pizza to Gabrielle, and the two strike up a conversation over the intercom in her apartment complex. But soon after, Naoufel decides to try and find Gabrielle, eventually moving in and working at her uncle’s wood shop as an apprentice.
Naoufel and Gabrielle’s initial conversation has a sweetness and charm that plays like a “will-they-won’t-they” romance. While Naoufel’s dedication to meeting Gabrielle and winning her over is sweet at times, the overlying creepiness of Naoufel’s improvised plan never fades away. Naoufel’s past, before his attempts to woo Gabrielle are quite strong, as the film shows the tragedies that led Naoufel down the road he’s currently on.
I Lost My Body also fumbles as it tries to tie these two stories into one. When the film unravels how Naoufel lost his hand, the incident has less to do with his choices up to that point, but instead another freak accident of Naoufel’s life that seems more incidental than narratively important. The same could be said of Gabrielle, who never has much weight except as a way to move Naoufel’s life forward.
But despite these problems with Naoufel’s story, the way Clapin tells this story of tragedy and the decisions that lead us down our path is often enchanting and never lifeless. It’s truly surprising how intense Clapin can make the story of a hand, and even without its body, the marvelous animation makes the movements and mannerisms of Naoufel come through this separated appendage. Even with its faults, I Lost My Body is one of the most remarkable animated films of the year and easily one of the strangest.