If The Beast with Five Fingers were updated into an eerie yet heartfelt coming-of-age cartoon, the result would be something like I Lost My Body (J’ai perdu mon corps), which marks a promising debut for French writer-director-animator Jeremy Clapin.
Premiering in competition in Cannes’ Critics’ Week, the film follows a young man who gets his hand sliced off at the start of the story and then spends the rest of it — the hand, that is — trying to reconnect with his body while making sense of his life. A highly original and rather touching account of loss, both physical and emotional, this is the kind of mature animation flick that could find traction beyond the fest circuit.
Talk to the hand.
Adapted by Clapin and Amelie screenwriter Guillaume Laurant from the latter’s 2006 novel, Happy Hand, the script portrays the troubled existence of Naoufel (voiced by Hakim Faris), a kid who spent a happy childhood in North Africa until his parents were killed in a car accident and he was sent to live with an evil uncle in Paris.
Timid and still traumatized by the incident that left him an orphan, Naoufel scrapes by as a lowly pizza delivery boy with no real plans for the future. But when he falls head-over-heels for the elusive librarian Gabrielle (Victoire Du Bois) during a botched delivery, he decides to pursue her, landing a job at the carpentry workshop of her uncle (Patrick D’Assumcao), and, perhaps for the first time, taking his life into his own hands.
Or hand, actually, because the entire story is told through the point-of-view of Naoufel’s dismembered limb as it slowly but surely crawls back to its master. Along the way, it encounters a number of obstacles that become veritable action movie set-pieces in miniature, from a fierce pigeon attack to a face-off with a rat in the metro. Those scenes, composed of realistic 2D drawings, are intercut with impressionistic flashbacks — fingers sifting sand on a beach or playing piano; blood oozing out of a thumb — where the hand remembers the key events leading up to its current predicament.
Clapin uses those moments of sense memory to reveal how Naoufel, who was once a carefree boy with a taste for music and sound recording, was transformed by trauma into a marginal young adult with a dead-end job. When he encounters the thoughtful Gabrielle — during a cleverly staged meet-and-greet where they communicate via her building’s intercom — there’s suddenly a glimmer of light in his otherwise hopeless existence.
At once creepy and melancholic, I Lost My Body employs its unlikely horror scenario (Clapin doesn’t shy away from the gore, especially in the opening scenes) to channel something deeper and darker, going beyond the mere sensational to arrive at the personal. The film is as much about a hand mourning the loss of its body as it is about Naoufel coming to terms with the losses he has experienced in his short, sad life. If he can somehow piece things back together, he may finally become whole again.
Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Critics’ Week)
Production company: Xilam Animation
Cast: Hakim Faris, Victoire Du Bois, Patrick D’Assumcao
Director: Jeremy Clapin
Screenwriters: Jeremy Clapin, Guillaume Laurant, adapated from Laurant’s novel ‘Happy Hand’
Producer: Marc Du Pontavice
Production designers: Fursy Teyssier, Jeoffrey Magellan
Editor: Benjamin Massoubre
Composer: Dan Levy