I Lost My Body (J’ai perdu mon corps)

France (2019) Dir. Jérémy Clapin

I’m sure you are familiar with the classic line from Oscar Wilde’s The Importance Of Being Earnest from Lady Bracknell when she says to Jack Worthing about how losing one parent “may be regarded as misfortune. To lose both can be regarded as more like carelessness”. Using that as a metric, how do you rate losing your whole body?

Naoufel is a clumsy, under-performing pizza delivery boy originally from Morocco who once had aspirations of being a pianist and astronaut. Already on thin ice with his boss, Naoufel arrives late for a delivery at a tower block after a near collision with a car. Calling the customer on the intercom, Naoufel is taken aback when she shows more concern for his well being that her pizza.

Following a long, faceless conversation thanks to a faulty door system, a smitten Naoufel learns the girl is a librarian named Gabrielle and decides to pursue her, taking a job as an apprentice carpenter with her uncle Gigi to get closer to her. Meanwhile, a severed hand escapes from a refrigerator in a laboratory in Paris and makes its way across the city to reunite with its original body.

Okay, so the severed hand’s escape from the lab opens the film, but I wanted to tease you a bit since it was too juicy a premise to give away so easily, hence my messing with the chronology of the story. Something else I haven’t mentioned is that I Lost My Body is an animated film, which goes a long way in making this offbeat premise a lot more acceptable to audiences.

Based on the novel The Happy Hand by Guillaume Laurant, who co-wrote this adaptation with director Jérémy Clapin, this is an esoteric tale of love, loss, and memories, with the emphasis on esoteric. The further we get into the film, the more we realise animation was absolutely the right medium to tell this story. Obviously, Clapin could have gone the CGI route with the detached appendage but what we have is more than adequate.

What stands out from the offset is how the hand is sentient – it thinks, it reacts, it hurts, it calculates, it feels. Quite often, the view switches to the hand’s POV which is bizarre enough but again, plays a significant part in creating a sense of drama behind its mission to return to its owner. It works nicely in tandem with the awkward pursuit of romance by Naoufel, which we learn is one part of the flashback element of the narrative.

There are in fact three timelines played out, yet it is easy to follow. The hand’s risky traversing of Paris is the present, everything involving adult Naoufel is the recent past, whilst his childhood is conveniently shown in black and white, representing the distant past as if his early days were a lost home movie being played back after years of being stuck in a dusty old box in the attic.

Pay close attention because these contain tiny clues as to how the story eventually pans out, crucially in the fateful accident that separates man from appendage. This shows how cleverly constructed the plotting is and the depth of planning Laurant must have applied when writing the novel. It isn’t obvious at first, unless one is truly inquisitive, that a debate on how best to catch a fly, or Naoufel’s lateness as a pizza delivery boy for not having a watch would end up having such dire consequences.

You don’t have to spend the film piecing things together, the film can be enjoyed as a straightforward drama, but it is a joy when it all clicks and you suddenly realise how important the little things can be, whether the outcome is positive or negative. But back to the middle timeline, and the primary concern is how this gauche delivery boy is going to win over cool chick Gabrielle.

Because the door to the apartment block wouldn’t open and Naoufel was already late with the pizza (again), their conversation was conducted solely through the intercom, and a bit like the film Her, in which a man falls for his computer because of her voice, a similar romantic seed is planted. In this case, Gabrielle being human makes it less weird although it is debatable whether Naoufel is being creepy with his stalkerish methods in getting her attention.

Gabrielle somehow doesn’t recognise Naoufel voice, so to her he is just someone her uncle hired and takes a liking to him. They discover a shared interest in certain books and films, otherwise she is a bit out of his league, but clearly his earnestness and slight geekish demeanour has an attraction for Gabrielle, which she keeps close to her chest. But as I said earlier, some might find his wooing actions a bit creepy.

Should this unlikely romance not be to your taste then the perilous adventures of the severed hand will more than keep you invested. From the daring break out of the lab which make for among the most suspenseful opening few minutes of any film, to the various dangers it meets on its way, such as hungry rats, speeding trains, excitable guide dogs, even the weather, we urge the hand on to complete its mission.

And it is all animated to perfection as well, employing cinematic camera tricks for the big set pieces, like the scene where the hand goes all Mary Poppins and attempts to cross a busy road via umbrella on a windy night. The view consists of the dizzying spinning and the heart stopping near misses in the face of oncoming traffic, very real and simply magnificent. In comparison, the characters are a little looser but their movements are realistic, bolstered by an immersive sound design.

I Lost My Body is a sublime and inventive viewing experience. Being animated makes it more interesting but this is not a case of style over substance, rather one complimenting the other.

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