I Lost My Body Review
The idea of a severed hand navigating its way around the world may seem pretty surreal, but it's something we should be used to by now after decades of watching Thing waving itself around the Addams Family mansion. Netflix might not seem the most obvious home for an animation about a wandering set of digits, but I Lost My Body is one of those anomalies occasionally purchased by the platform that allow a niche film to be seen by a much larger audience than it would've achieved through traditional channels.
Director Jérémy Clapin’s film won the Critics’ Week Grand Prize at Cannes earlier this year and is loosely based on Guillaume Laurant’s 2006 novel, Happy Hand, which tells the story of severed right hand trying to reconnect with its owner. Who the hand belongs to and how it came to be sat inside a hospital fridge itching for escape is left a mystery for much of the film, slowly bringing together two separate timelines until we learn how the determined little manus is linked to the human protagonist of the story.
After revealing a childhood memory of Naoufel (Hakim Faris/Dev Patel) trying to swat a fly (an important point to remember for later), we are taken on the hand’s thrilling adventure from the fridge and out into the dangers looming large in the world. It’s a perilous journey that sees it scamper through the city fighting off rats, dodging traffic using an umbrella, soothing babies to sleep and hitching rides on the undercarriage of a subway train. Despite its detached state, Clapin gives the hand a dimensional life of its own, including memories of how it used to exist, which are used to fuel its drive across the city.
Naoufel’s story is told concurrently alongside that of the hand and we learn the young man is an orphan originally born in Morocco. He moved to Paris as a child after his parents died in a car crash and now works as a pizza delivery boy where he comes into contact with Gabrielle (Victoire Du Bois/Alia Shawkat). If you’re not creeped out by the thought of an autonomous severed hand embarking on a road trip, then the icky methods used by Naoufel to get closer to Gabrielle might do the trick. Although a genuinely shy – and pretty clumsy – guy, he’s infatuated by the librarian and the pair strike up a friendship that is more calculated than she is first aware of.
Occasional black-and-white flashbacks reveal more about Naoufel’s life up until this point and the vast emotional void that exists in his life. Like the wandering hand, he too is searching for someone to connect with in the hope of rediscovering a purpose. Clapin explores his inner life through a minimal script that uses a beautifully hand-drawn style to lend a warmth and sense of poetry to his narrative. Even though our time is divided between Naoufel and an inexpressive hand, Clapin ensures there is an emotional aspect to both perspectives, which is embellished further when we finally understand what has drawn them together.
The sound design plays just as an important role as the animation itself and Dan Levy’s at times Carpenter-esque score adds a melancholic tenderness to proceedings. It appears at just the right moments to accent scenes rather than overpower them, the synths swelling to underpin the missing link in these two stories. The memories they share frustratingly remain within touching distance, while the need for an emotional and physical bond appears to haunt their very existence.
How much of our life is set in stone no matter what we do, versus our ability to determine our own fate is really what lies at the heart of I Lost My Body. Naoufel has lived through a deeply painful childhood yet still firmly believes he remains in charge of his own decisions. What’s meant to be is only controlled by having the courage to take risks and deviate from the path we’re expected to follow. The rewards may or may not be worth it in the end, but it’s having the choice in the first place that really matters.
I Lost My Body opens in select UK cinemas on November 22 before arriving on Netflix on November 29