Animation is truly the hardest medium. You have to create absolutely everything. You have the ability to create absolutely anything. Animation has given us evil stepmothers poisoning beauties with poisoned apples. It has given us a woodland Totoro spirit and Cat Bus friend who led children on a magical adventure. And now it has given us a disembodied hand trying desperately to track down its body.
I Lost My Body is an award-winning, and Oscar-nominated, French animation directed by Jérémy Clapin. In it, we see a hand break free of a medical facility and totteringly (at first) manage to escape. It is determined to find its way across dangerous city landscapes that are populated with such threats as hungry rats and busy traffic. Intercut with this journey is the life of a young man: Noafel.
Orphaned from a young age, aspiring pianist (and astronaut) Noafel is unhappy in his job as a pizza delivery boy and unhappy with living with his distant uncle and coarse cousin. But all this changes when he fails to deliver a pizza on time and becomes absorbed into conversation over an apartment building tannoy with Gabrielle, the customer. He later tracks her down but, too shy to properly introduce himself, instead he takes an apprenticeship position at her uncle’s woodwork business. He gets to know her without revealing his identity, all whilst the inevitable separation of his hand looms on the horizon…
Animation has the ability to utterly lift something that, described literally, can sound a little flat. The boy-meets-girl nature of the plot is something you can tie to an endless amount of films. Yet, I Lost My Body is buoyed by utterly engaging and compelling artistry combined with a hugely evocative score. From the tottering first ‘steps’ of the hand to it grasping an umbrella handle and leaping from a building, we are unequivocally committed to the fate of this mortalis digital.
Like all good coming of age movies, I Lost My Body constructs an emotional weight to Noafel that is both nostalgic and yet wrapped up in an unpredictable future. His early family tragedy and isolation from his blood tie carers makes Noafel long for any kind of connection. The best dialogue comes from his interactions with Gabrielle. His idea of bliss is an empty landscape with only a desolate soundscape for company. Her bafflement challenges him to construct a wooden igloo atop a skyrise building to prove his point. They share a moment as he says that the only way to truly cheat fate is to act unexpectedly, despite this clearly getting ready to blow up in his face.
You can’t unpick beautiful art direction in a review, nor do it justice. How could typed words convey the touching quiet that comes from the severed hand allowing itself to sink into a baby’s bath so that it can cleanse itself of the dirty city endured on its journey? What could I say to evoke in you, dear reader, how it felt as the hand grips for dear life on a floating umbrella assaulted by highway traffic, only for the spinning headlights to become like the floating stars in the cosmos that Noafel so wanted to visit in his youthful exuberance? It’s just…beautiful.
I score I Lost My Body 10 out of 10. Does this mean it is perfect? No. Does this mean it is better than every other film? Not necessarily. What is does mean is that I could not find fault in any element, and there is nothing I would even slightly change about it. It is a transcendent piece of work that ticks any and every checklist I could want. It is funny, heartfelt, artful, and tragic. Through our hands, we explore the universe, but the severed hand here would be satisfied just to connect with somebody.
Words by Michael Record