Jérémy Clapin’s animated knockout features the voice of Harrison Ford.
Who could have predicted that the perilous adventures of a severed hand would help pave the way to one of the most impactful cinematic journeys of Cannes 2019? A seemingly grotesque point of view notwithstanding, Jérémy Clapin’s I Lost My Body (J’ai Perdu Mon Corps) is an animated knockout that seeks to thrill, offer nourishment for the soul and food for thought, sans a multitude of gratuitous shocks one might reasonably expect from its body horror set-up.
Opening in a dissection room, this beguiling directorial debut instantly shifts into high gear as a cut-off hand suddenly becomes animated once more and makes a daring escape out into the inhospitable streets of an urban landscape. Its goal is soon obvious: to be reunited with the rest of its body. But Clapin’s spirited take on Guillaume Laurant’s 2006 novel, Happy Hand, offers no guarantees as to the fate of its protagonist, Naoufel (voiced by Hakim Faris), a down-on-his- luck pizza delivery boy whose lonesome life is given a dash of color when Gabriela (Victoire Du Bois) places an order.
Their chance encounter over the intercom is comedic and poignant as it introduces viewers to two likable leads who could be kindred spirits if only they got to know each other. Under false pretenses, Naoufel works his way into Gabriela’s life by becoming an apprentice at her uncle’s carpentry workshop, hoping to make a meaningful connection. This coming-of-age love story is essentially a long flashback or, really, a sequence of affective and tactile memories which the hand slowly but surely recalls while fighting its way back to its owner, who may or may not be lifeless at the start of this story.
I Lost My Body’s intrigue partially stems from this uncertainty, as it keeps viewers guessing as to whether we are heading towards a tragic or triumphant climax, but also finds jolts of energy in the adrenaline-pumping run-ins the hand has with subway rats, guide dogs, pigeons or even a garbage truck compactor. The film’s incredibly fluent animation packs a vivid immediacy, but the true beauty stems from its confident mode of storytelling.
Perfectly paced at a lean runtime of eighty minutes, I Lost My Body’s ‘less is more’-approach never feels compelled to state the obvious. To the contrary, Clapin has a knack for beautifully suggesting plot details through visual cues and a masterful montage whose non-chronological ‘to and fro’ washes over the audience as a collage of associative thinking, fragmented sense memory, squashed hopes and dreams, and could-have-been future outcomes.
Thematically, the sum total of all this imagination is a nimble and achingly rendered exploration of loss, suffused with a profound longing for wholeness and happiness while acknowledging how hard-won those often are in a world that can feel unfair at the best of times. An existential piece, I Lost My Body shows what it means to be human, outlining the necessity of moving on and ultimately underscores the value of daring to take chances, no matter the outcome, over all too easily accepting the lot you are dealt.
Further uplifted by Dan Levy’s evocative score, I Lost My Body contains enough wonders to soar to such rarified heights of emotive animation as to occasionally rival the poetic craft and contemplation of Studio Ghibli masterpieces like The Tale of the Princess Kaguya. Its status as newly minted Semaine de la Critique winner marks Clapin’s debut as an early frontrunner for best animated film of 2019.