Runtime: 81 minutes
Director: Jérémy Clapin
Writer: Guillaume Laurant
Starring: Hakim Faris, Victoire du Bois
“I Lost My Body” (2019) is the first feature film by director Jérémy Clapin. It was shown as part of the “Dare” stream at London Film Festival 2019 which was described as “In-your-face, up-front and arresting: films that take you out of your comfort zone”. That certainly is a good description of this film. The Cannes Critics’ Week Grand Prize winner engages all the senses to take you on a melancholic and emotional journey towards a gruesome end.
The film, written by the Academy Award nominated writer of “Amélie” (Guillaume Laurant), begins in a French morgue where a severed hand awakes, confused and unsteady. It manages to escape without being detected and scampers off into the streets of Paris.
It then embarks on a perilous journey back towards its previous owner. It fights off predators, crosses rivers and roads, tries to survive freezing temperatures and of course avoid human discovery. Along the way the hand remembers its previous owner and its past life.
Meanwhile we see pizza delivery boy Naoufel (Hakim Faris) processing a deep grief while trying to make his way in the world alone. He’s also in love with a girl called Gabrielle (Victoire du Bois) but doesn’t know how to express that let alone live independently.
As the hand’s journey reaches its end so do its flashback memories and the culmination has audiences squirming in their seats.
This is not intended to be a scary or particularly gruesome film but one about grief and loneliness. It really is a film for the senses. The sense of touch, of course, being the most prominent. Through the hand’s fond hand-related memories we can almost feel the sensation of warm sand filtering slowly through our fingers on the beach, the wind across our palms, or the feel of smooth glossy piano keys being pressed.
There are so many different textures to explore – hard and soft, warm and cold, rough and smooth, wet and dry – and this severed hand evokes such strong sensory memories it brings the film to life in an almost tangible way.
“It must be peaceful being cut off from the world. Nothing to see. Nothing to hear”
Sound is also absolutely key to eliciting that tangible response. What good is it to see a hand scampering down a city street if you don’t also hear the pitter patter of fingertips on wet pavement at the same time.
This is not intended to be a scary or particularly gruesome film but one about grief and loneliness. It really is a film for the senses. The sense of touch, of course, being the most prominent.
The theme of sound recurs throughout the film in different ways, most notably through Naoufel’s tape recorder. But listen out for the care and attention taken over the smallest noises and particularly how they make you feel. We hear the world through the hand so sounds closest to it are given prominence. This approach makes the world that much more scary from the hand’s perspective and again, the filmmakers draw on our sensory memories to impact us on a more visceral level.
The colour palette matches the tone of the film. It is at times in black and white, at others muted and melancholic colours rather than vibrant and saturated. The style of the animation has a hand-drawn, almost watercolour aesthetic with enough fine detail to match moments of gritty peril or high emotion.
We move from rooftops to undergrowth along with the little hand and see everything it does. The perspective lends itself to some really imaginative art work. If you were a lonely severed hand seeking shelter in a busy city where would you go and what would you see?
Overall “I Lost My Body” is a film about grief, memories, loneliness and the need for connection. The animation, colours and sounds are perfectly woven together to create a distinct style.
Telling a story from ground level is more akin to a children’s film about a small animal, and this is clearly much more macabre. But still we really feel for the hand. We want it to succeed. It’s not gruesome, it’s lonely.
The hand itself is a character to behold. With no voice, no eyes, no facial expression and no traditional body to express itself with we still know exactly what it is feeling and thinking. Its terror when it fights off a group of subway rats is clear. And in one incredibly emotional scene it manages to radiate such a deep sadness and longing for human comfort.
Naoufel himself left me a little cold at times as I wasn’t particularly impressed with some of his somewhat misguided attempts to win the girl he loves. I felt like the filmmakers were trying to turn some of his actions on their head but they were still there in the first place so I’m not too sure. At least Gabrielle was a character who certainly knew her own mind.
Overall “I Lost My Body” is a film about grief, memories, loneliness and the need for connection. The animation, colours and sounds are perfectly woven together to create a distinct style. It’s lamenting but also rather thrilling. The structure works very well and we’re taken on an emotional adventure. But as the film reaches its conclusion you might just squirm remembering something very important – at some point someone will lose a hand.