Jérémy Clapin breathes an artist’s two worst nightmares to life: losing a hand and animating it. I LOST MY BODY (French: J’AI PERDU MON CORPS) follows the gruesome – but riveting – quest of a severed hand searching for its owner. The categorisation as one of London Film Festival’s “Dare” films – a category dedicated to “taking you out of your comfort zone” – could not have been more fitting. For each squirt, squelch, and spurt of blood, I LOST MY BODY had the audience squirming in their seats, but unable to peel their eyes away from the silver screen.
I LOST MY BODY begins with the hand “waking up” in an eerie Parisian hospital room of amputated body parts. As the newly-autonomous hand makes headway finding its owner Naoufel (Hakim Fairs), it recalls his fond sensorial memories. Naoufel is a gifted pianist born into a loving family. However, a tragic accident orphans the would-be musician in his childhood – years after, young adult Naoufel finds himself delivering pizza instead of playing on the world stage. One dark and stormy night, he befriends the mysterious librarian Gabrielle (Victoire du Bois) over a voice intercom. Touched by her kindness, he completely changes his life trajectory to find her at all costs.
As the dismembered hand scuttles through the city’s grimy gutters to find Naoufel, the film shines in its greatest strength: its finger animation. While other bodily gestures noticeably suffer from a lower frame rate, Clapin conducts Naoufel’s each and every digit to synchronous harmony. The hand absorbs theatrical body language to create a colourful range of expression. From furtive glances to visible sighs, the hand becomes its own character – almost, ironically, more interesting to watch than Naoufel himself. Clapin’s clever mix of digital, two-dimensional animation and three-dimensional renderings gracefully showcases the versatility of his multi-legged monster.
The hand’s on-the-ground viewpoint presents tantamount delight. As the hand weaves through grotesque pigeons, loose soup cans, and massive sewer rats, the miniature perspective harkens back to films like TOY STORY and A BUG’S LIFE – only with a rough, metropolitan twist. The extreme close-ups only contribute to the film’s tactile experience; by constricting the frame to the hand’s field of vision, Clapin confines his protagonist to the claustrophobic unknown. The hand drags the audience into its hazardous world of previously intangible possibility, introducing a new (albeit foul) side to Paris at our fingertips. I LOST MY BODY spins an incredibly tactile experience, inviting the viewer to adopt the lost hand as an extension of our own.
Beyond the stunning character animation, Dan Levy’s experimental score cohesively strings together the largely dialogue-free drama. For a film that is all hands and no ears, speaking parts are far and few in between. However, the hand drums well to music’s experimental rhythm, matching the film’s own urban cadence. Levy’s own immersive masterwork dances around each unpleasant sound effect as well: it contrasts just enough to allow each finger-padded squelch to resound in the cinema, maximizing the sound’s visceral effect. Levy injects each break in dialogue with life, filling the soundtrack with the heart-pounding, erratic trajectory Clapin gleefully takes us on.
And unpredictable to the finish, indeed. Flanked by screenwriter Guillaume Laurent (AMELIE) and producer Marc du Pontavice (OGGY AND THE COCKROACHES), Clapin himself made a pleasant surprise visit to the LFF premiere of I LOST MY BODY. For a film about detachment, audience members were incredibly moved; the trio received an explosion of applause (and a couple of tearful confessions) in the red-draped theatre of the Prince Charles Cinema. Perhaps this indicative of Clapin’s incredible success in his directorial feature debut across the Channel. After all, Clapin’s film marked history at Cannes by being the first animated film to win the Grand Prize at the 58th International Critics’ Week, and won the Annecy Crystal for Feature Film to boot.
With all the blood and gore of a classic horror embedded into a heart-wrenching story of love and loneliness, Clapin’s macabre genius captivates to the very end. Even if one does not enjoy vicariously exploring the muddied streets of Paris, at least one thing is for sure: you will never be able to look at your own hands the same way again.
I LOST MY BODY will reach UK theatres on November 22 and will be on Netflix in most territories by November 29.